MANY eulogies following the death of Desmond Tutu exaggerate the Anglican cleric’s post-democratic contribution in the process glossing over serious shortcomings. That Tutu was a leading light in the struggle against apartheid can never be cast in doubt, and I take pride in having marched with him on the famed Cape Town Peace March (1989).
So too, the manner in which Tutu’s civil disobedience campaign tackled 80s beach apartheid and rankled the feathers of the apartheid regime with calculated showmanship and aplomb, and riled later governments.
However, the failure of the leading figure behind our nation’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to do anything tangible in defending the commission’s findings before the courts, must rank as a form of complicity in a regime he otherwise vigorously attacked.
Primarily a theologian,Tutu’s morality turned out to be incompatible with justice, requiring that we “believe” in an intangible God, and practice Christian forgiveness instead of acting upon our convictions and dealing with reality.
In this sense, Tutu’s position, (aside from his use of satire and laughter as a weapon), was one of ‘speak out but do nothing’. Provide amnesty to those who came clean, but then go the extra mile in awarding de facto blanket amnesty to those who did not. Thus the perpetrators were let off Scott free, while apartheid’s many victims still sit outside our courts without any hope of justice.
In 2015 I filed a case before the Equality Court of South Africa, citing a similar failure by then Minister of Justice Michael Masutho to render any support in a matter affecting the status, prestige and outcome of the TRC.
Having been granted leave to sue Legal Aid SA, I ended up with a decision effectively stating inter alia that since the ‘TRC Report would take a long time to read, it may be ignored’ (see decision para 5 below). As an earlier submission by the second respondent, an apartheid-era media firm maintained, the report was ‘simply a report’ and the commission, ‘merely a commission’. Consequently Tutu was merely the leader of a Sunday School outing, not the figurehead behind our transitional justice system.
Writing this piece on Martin Luther King Day, it is clear that Tutu could have been colossal, someone after whom Holidays are named — if only he was consistent in his outlook, for instance his support of LGBTIQ+ rights and Same-Sex marriage which was entirely absent when it came to expressing solidarity with the cause of Palestinian Nationalism. A movement still opposed to LGBTIQ+ rights, and which much like our own country’s struggle, has decoupled its narrative from the reality of past injustices.
Just why this is so, is all the more poignant in the light of a UN resolution proposed by Germany and Israel aimed at combating Holocaust denial (and subsequently passed without a vote by the 193-member General Assembly), and follows the school banning of Art Speigelman’s Maus. It needs to be said, Palestinian leadership involvement in Hitler’s Final Solution predated the formation of an All-Palestine government in Gaza by Amin al-Husseini.
A foremost proponent of replacement theology, Tutu’s support of the Anglican Covenant which views the Church as the colonial inheritor of the Old Testament’s Hebrew Covenant was perhaps Tutu’s only political constancy. Thus Tutu preached Freedom for Palestinians whilst denying there was anything at fault with the Palestinian leadership which had earlier signed a pact with the Devil as it were, collaborating with none other than Adolf Hitler in pursuing a Jew-free Arab world, and campaigning as Hamas does to this day, for a world without Jews.
It was to my dismay that Tutu refused to engage with those like myself who view the ongoing conflict as a tragic case of ‘injustice vs injustice’ or to use the words of writer Amos Oz, a situation of ‘competing juridical systems’. And thus a never-ending war being fought by adults against children.
The world is poorer for the African clerics’ prejudiced conclusions — Tutu’s failure to link the struggles of the Tibetan people with the struggles of those Palestinians who still suffer under occupation, and yet have been unable to advance their cause because of an abject failure to articulate a secular solution, one which does not negate nor deny the rights of minority religions.
Despite his insistence on meeting the Dalai Lama, amidst his government’s own intransigence on the issue, and his open support of the Ba’hai faith in Iran, Tutu paid lip-service to secularism and never managed to escape the Anglican cloister of easy homilies, cheap platitudes and hackneyed sermons that cast the Jews as simple stereotypes and the Palestinians as lost sheep in need of guidance into the greater body of Christ.
Tutu’s political sermons on the subject of the Middle East, in the absence of a Palestinian Freedom Charter, must therefore rank alongside those of earlier Popes and Bishops who painted Jews as apostates and heretics and the Jewish faith as heresy. Tutu’s astonishing failure to defend the TRC Report should be listed as one of the root causes of the current malaise affecting our society.
It is a harsh criticism I know, and may be unpalatable to some, but as the saying goes, ‘if the shoe fits, wear it’.