Politics

‘Desmond Tutu was a fearless visionary activist who cut through to all’ says Lord Hain – Peter Hain – World News


The anti-apartheid hero was one of the most special people I have ever had the privilege to meet, writes lifelong apartheid opponent Lord Hain

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has died aged 90

I will remember “Arch” most for his engagingly, impish camaraderie along with his blunt honesty in speaking truth to power – whether to the old apartheid rulers or to the new post-apartheid ones.

They all resented him which was why people all respected him. No one could ever curb his courage or independent spirit.

Fearless, passionate, inspiring – and to some uncomfortably honest, Desmond Tutu, along with Nelson Mandela, was one of the most special people I have ever had the privilege to meet.

In 1998, when he received an honorary degree from Cardiff University, I was invited as guest of honour, then a Labour government Minister.

‘Arch’, as he was affectionately known, burst into one of his characteristic giggles.







‘He was a fearless preacher able to rouse a great audience’
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Roger Karnbad / Avalon)

“A pair of anti-apartheid subversives like us being honoured by the establishment!” he declared with an infectiously riotous laugh at the irony of it all, shoulders heaving.

Possessing an inspirational way with words, he seemed always to capture the moment so perfectly.

A fearless preacher able to rouse a great audience to raucous excitement, he could also drop to a whisper, pausing, holding everyone in the palm of his hand.

He was a visionary activist who cut through to all, revolutionary or ruler, poor or powerful.

But it was his irrepressible eloquence as a Christian leader that made him almost invincible, first as Anglican dean of Johannesburg, as secretary of the Interdenominational South African Council of Churches and then as Archbishop of Cape Town.







Meeting the Queen in 1999
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When Mandela and his fellow anti-apartheid leaders were two decades into their imprisonment on Robben Island, Arch came to increasing prominence as an opponent of racist tyranny, speaking at rallies and funerals, leading protests, his voice heard across the world.

Apartheid’s brutal police state had assassinated, tortured, jailed and silenced critics, but they couldn’t really do that to the Archbishop of Cape Town, with his multi-racial congregation and his increasingly prominent global Christian platform.

Arch’s initial joyous engagements with Nelson Mandela in February 1990, after Mandela had finally been freed, epitomised the triumph of good over evil, these two great figures heralding the onset of the new “rainbow nation”.

Desmond Tutu also epitomised integrity. So when Winnie Mandela appeared before him at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established by President Mandela, Arch was firm about her tragic descent from a brave fighter for justice and victim of police oppression, into criminal complicity in murder.







Peter Hain knew the activist as ‘Arch’
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PA)

He was also firm with former President de Klerk, who’d released Mandela and negotiated his transition to the Presidency, but refused to apologise for apartheid crimes committed on his watch. De Klerk stormed out of the Commission in high dudgeon after it had heard evidence of awful, bloodcurdling atrocities by apartheid security agents.

Even soon after his close friend Mandela became President, he was not silent.

MPs were under fire for accepting big salary increases, and Desmond Tutu quipped: “The government stopped the gravy train long enough to get on it”.

A few months later, Mandela announced a cut in the salaries of MPs and of the president.

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Tutu found himself becoming the unflinching custodian of the “rainbow nation”, critical of Mandela’s successors, first Thabo Mbeki for his HIV-AIDS denialism, then Jacob Zuma for his shameless corruption and betrayal of the values of the freedom struggle.

Despite its contemporary troubles, South Africa still remains a beacon for the triumph of hope over evil, for non-racialism over apartheid, and a wonderful tourist destination. But its future depends upon learning from Desmond Tutu and striving to emulate his legacy.

  • Peter Hain was the Labour MP for Neath for 24 years and is now in the House of Lords.





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