Remembering Tutu, South Africa relies on lasting challenges

JOHANNESBURG – In a requiem mass interweaving several southern African languages, in the style of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s own preachin...


JOHANNESBURG – In a requiem mass interweaving several southern African languages, in the style of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s own preaching, parishioners at his former Johannesburg church bid farewell this week to the militant priest who confronted the apartheid with a message of peace and forgiveness.

The service, at St. Mary’s Cathedral on Thursday, was part of a week of mourning across South Africa that once again raised questions about the state of reconciliation and its democratic process, as the country returns on his past of segregation and the role played by the Archbishop in the attempt to unify the country.

Flags across the country fly at half mast to commemorate a national hero, but his memorials have been straightforward affairs – run by religious leaders, with little speech from national politicians and with modest bouquets of flowers and few portraits. The archbishop’s coffin is unvarnished and fitted with rope handles, in accordance with his last wishes.

Archbishop Tutu, who died at the age of 90 on Sunday, was one of the main voices against apartheid, helping to end the brutal segregationist system in South Africa. After the collapse of apartheid, the Archbishop took on a new role, accompanying the country’s difficult transition at the head of its Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In retirement, his calls for social justice extended to the HIV / AIDS pandemic, LGBTQ rights and climate change, again challenging church and state even as it grew more fragile.

His official funeral will be on Saturday at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, where he became the first black archbishop in 1986 and indeed the spiritual leader of Anglican churches in southern Africa. Prior to that, he had brought the church to the forefront of the struggle for non-violent democratic change in South Africa, which earned him international support and a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

In his later years, however, those close to him saw a man increasingly disillusioned with the state of democracy he helped establish.

Reverend Frank Chikane, in his Archbishop Tutu Requiem Sermon on Thursday, said so while recalling his last meeting with the Archbishop.

“He didn’t think that was what we were fighting for,” Chikane said from the pulpit. “I would like to say to you rest in peace, my lord. We will not rest until we reach the ideal society that you stand for. “

Deep inequalities remain entrenched in South Africa, still etched along racial lines. Three decades after the country’s first racially inclusive elections in 1994, the government still struggles to deliver on its promise of decent education, housing and health care for a black majority who have been denied such fundamental rights under apartheid.

The ruling African National Congress, once led by Archbishop Tutu’s close friend and ally, Nelson Mandela, has been hampered by internal feuds and bitter accusations of corruption and cronyism. For years some of these accusations have come from the Archbishop himself, and resentment has grown between him and some party leaders.

For a new generation of South Africans, the heyday of the new democracy of the 1990s are long gone, and some have grown cynical about the Archbishop’s vision of a “rainbow nation.” Embittered by the growing gap between rich and poor, Black and white South Africans.

This reckoning with the past is much larger than individuals and is a testament to South Africa’s “unfinished business,” said Busisiwe Dlamini, scholar and racial equity activist. She said she was not so worried about differences over the legacy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but more about the idea that young South Africans might sink into indifference.

“Let’s take this moment to cry, celebrate, and then say what’s going on in these different voices that seem polarized but tell us there is work to be done,” Ms. Dlamini said. “The process of the TRC was more important than the bishop himself.”

Although his message is one of non-violence, Archbishop Tutu never seemed to back down from a fight with the government or even his own church.

Around South Africa and around the world, some have recounted when Archbishop Tutu donned a t-shirt with the words ‘HIV positive’ and lent his name to an HIV research center in the early years. 2000. He continued to fight the stigma associated with the disease, when South Africa’s public health policy was characterized by indecision and misinformation, and thousands died. Others recalled how he fought for women to be ordained in the South African clergy, and disputed the international church on its position on LGTBQ rights.

“He was a few steps ahead of society, not just the church,” said Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, a post Archbishop Tutu once held.

While many South Africans commemorated the Archbishop’s decades of work, some critics have questioned his years as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They argue that the dialogue and calculation requested by the commission was not enough to truly heal the deep wounds in South Africa.

While leading the commission, Archbishop Tutu hailed criticism that the bloody freedom fighters campaign against apartheid could not be equated with the calculated brutality of the security forces who enforced the system. In a TV interview in 1995, he said he had seen her as proof of the complexity of the South African reconciliation project.

As a young lawyer imprisoned by the apartheid police and who defended activists accused of treason, Dumisa Ntsebeza, too, was skeptical of Truth and Reconciliation even though he was made responsible for its investigations. .

From the outset, in a law passed by a government led by Mr Mandela in 1995, the commission was designed to examine the atrocities committed by both sides between 1960 and 1994, when the South African landscape looked like a “war of low intensity, ”Mr. Ntsebeza said. The idea, he added, was to promote reconciliation, “not to implement it”. With its time and resources limited by an act of Parliament, it was clear that the commission would not be able to fully address South Africa’s racist past, he said.

“I think politicians wanted to appear to be doing something about our past,” Ntsebeza said. “It was designed to raise other issues, to allow people to see sufficiently what the act defined as gross human rights violations.”

Years later, Archbishop Tutu has become a critic of the process he once led. He criticized the government led by the African National Congress for failing to prosecute those who were refused amnesty during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and for failing to introduce the type of reforms that would have made it possible to fight inequalities. economic, one of the most enduring legacies of apartheid.

He called for reparations for the victims of apartheid and reiterated the commission’s earlier calls for a single wealth tax to start tackling inequality in South Africa.

“The commission was a start”, Mgr Tutu wrote in 2014, “not an end”.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Remembering Tutu, South Africa relies on lasting challenges
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