OPINION: We were fortunate to still have his voice in the public discourse, providing wisdom and advice. He stirred debate. He got us thinking. And he highlighted issues that needed critical focus.
By Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Our nation has been thrust into mourning by the unexpected news of the passing of a beloved South African icon, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu.
On behalf of the Inkatha Freedom Party, I extend our deepest condolences to the family, to the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, and to all South Africans.
Archbishop Tutu served his country with the utmost commitment. He was a man of faith and strong convictions who sought freedom for the oppressed. His contribution to the liberation struggle will forever be honoured in the telling of history, and his pursuit of reconciliation between black and white will stand as his life’s testimony.
As we grieve this great loss, Archbishop Tutu will be honoured for his humanity, his compassion and his capacity for forgiveness. He represented exactly what was needed as our country and the world transitioned from racial injustice to deepening democracy. We are grateful for his life and his service.
It is no secret, of course, that Archbishop Tutu and I did not always see eye to eye.
There were moments during our liberation struggle when his actions were difficult to understand. Perhaps more so because he was the head of my own Church, I was hurt when he lauded some drunk young thugs who made an attempt on my life at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe’s funeral in 1978. He called them, “A new breed … with iron in their souls.”
Does it strike a discordant note to speak of such things now, when we are in mourning? I believe the Arch himself would remind us, as he did during the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that: “There can be no genuine, lasting reconciliation without truth. Without truth, there can be no healing.”
Those were unusual times. We were in the midst of a raging tempest. I have no doubt that we were both following our consciences and doing what we believed to be right. Thus we held no grudges against one another. Indeed, this is underscored by the friendship we came to know over the last decades of his life. Ultimately our faith and our unquestionable love of country were a formidable binding agent.
I thank the Lord Almighty for granting us both such length of years, so that we could reach a place of friendship, having walked such a difficult road for South Africa. Our friendship is evidenced not only in the exchange of letters and good wishes but in the invitation to share special events.
I can never forget the moments I spent with the Tutu family when we celebrated the 70th birthday of Mama Leah Tutu, and when my Archbishop himself became an octogenarian. It is a blessing to count myself among the many who knew the Archbishop and were touched by his friendship.
During his remarkable life, Archbishop Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism, the Pacem in Terris Award, the Sydney Peace Prize, the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
To me, however, one of his greatest accolades is becoming a champion in the fight against HIV/Aids. Having lost two of my own children to this disease, I was grateful to Archbishop Tutu for working to remove the stigma and enhance education.
When he retired, after decades of active service in the Church and in politics, he announced that he was now giving himself space to “read and write and pray and think”. We knew however that we had not heard the last from him. He would never have been able to stand on the sidelines and watch our beloved country falter.
We were fortunate to still have his voice in the public discourse, providing wisdom and advice. He stirred debate. He got us thinking. And he highlighted issues that needed critical focus.
His stance against political corruption was not simply ethically mandated. It was courageous. He had the courage to point out where we had gone wrong. From xenophobia to poverty, from inequality to our Government’s policy of ‘quiet diplomacy' on the tragedy in Zimbabwe, he continued to be touched by the ongoing trials of our nation.
In October 2017, a beautiful wooden structure was erected outside St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. It consists of a series of arches and stands in honour of South Africa’s beloved Arch. In years to come, many will stand beneath those arches and remember the warm smile and jovial laugh that inspired the renewal of hope.
While we grieve a great loss, we are comforted in the knowledge that his legacy will continue.
May His Grace rest in eternal peace.
* Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP is a founder and president emeritus of the Inkatha Freedom Party