Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

In December 2013, when Nelson Mandela passed away, I shed a tear for the loss of a great one, a father of a nation.

I was living in Botswana when Mandela was released from jail, became leader of the ANC and then president of South Africa. It was a privilege to be so close to history. 

I moved to Australia in 1996, when Mandela made Archbishop Desmond Tutu chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would grant amnesty to those who committed crimes during apartheid.

Here is the technical description of what that meant

The commission was empowered to grant amnesty to those who committed abuses during the apartheid era, as long as the crimes were politically motivated, proportionate, and there was full disclosure by the person seeking amnesty. To avoid victor’s justice, no side was exempt from appearing before the commission. The commission heard reports of human rights violations and considered amnesty applications from all sides, from the apartheid state to the liberation forces, including the African National Congress.

Pause for a moment to take this in. 

In its moment of liberation, a country that had been under minority rule based on race for decades with order maintained through repression, violence and fear was choosing reconciliation over retribution.

The idea was a stroke of genius. Reconciliation through amnesty was not revenge or a reconning or punishment. Indeed some still argue that it prevented justice for the thousands of victims of oppression. Alternatively, the Commission was the essential safety valve in an otherwise volatile transition of power and influence.

Cynics would have plenty to say about how retribution would have crushed an already ailing economy, and the ANC took the only sensible political path available. Talking up the economy is always the easy way to avoid emotional responsibility.

Except amnesty was all about the humanity needed to rise above revenge. 

One man came to embody the courage and integrity it took to deliver amnesty as a path to reconciliation, the chairman of the Commission, clergyman and activist Desmond Tutu, who passed away on boxing day 2021; the last seminal figure of the apartheid struggle and arguably its conscience.

Great leaders come in many guises. They appear in all walks of life and share one thing in common… 

They do what they say.

Desmond Tutu showed everyone what he believed in. He cheered for us, cried for us, called out the wrongs for us, championed compassion for us, and even reminded us that there is elegance in the simplicity of a pine coffin.

I know only snippets of this preacher’s life, but they are enough to realise he was one that we should remember to remind us what matters.

I salute Archbishop Desmond Tutu for his courage and goodness; may he rest in peace.