/ 30 September 2011

Birthday wish for Archbishop Tutu

When the current state of South Africa’s democracy causes Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to feel “just a sadness”, we should all be worried.

The diminutive priest has, for decades, faced down the excesses of the state — from the repressive bloodlust of the apartheid regime to the voracious corruption that permeates our current democratic dispensation. He has stood up for all that is best about humankind in general and South Africa in particular. Tutu has remained a champion for liberty, equality and fraternalism: the foundations of a republic such as ours which, with our inhumane past, we are required to hold even dearer.

In doing this he has displayed — through his tears at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and his laughter with almost every second breath he takes — a generosity of spirit and an optimism that remains an example to all. If we, citizens and government, have made him sad, then we urgently need to take stock of what is going wrong in our democracy.

In an interview with the M&G, Archbishop Desmond Tutu talks about the Dalai Lama’s visit, the Protection of Information Bill and what makes him happy.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, Tutu delivers a penetrating analysis of much that has gone wrong — psychologically, philosophically and materially — in South Africa. The interview is set against the backdrop of his dear friend, the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, still waiting to hear if he will be granted a visa to enter South Africa.

The South African government is prevaricating and obfuscating on the delay, and it appears likely that the Dalai Lama will not be allowed to attend his friend’s birthday. It is now trite to state that this is a morally bankrupt decision aimed squarely at appeasing the emerging economic superpower, China.

It is, indeed, saddening to count the many countries who stood in solidarity with the anti-apartheid movement and ask: where is our principled stand with the people of Tibet? The gays of Uganda? The dissidents in China itself?

It is a particular source of sadness that we are forced to call so often for more principle and less pandering in our foreign relations.

We have lost our innocence and, as Tutu points out, our generosity, our magnanimity and our imagination in seeking not just a more egalitarian South Africa, but a more equal world.

South Africa’s first democratic government stepped into the rest of the world in 1994 with impression that it could change it for the better. Instead, its realpolitik and greed have changes us.

We are not the people we dreamed we were. But, as Tutu points out, the South African “sky is still firmly in place” — although the dark clouds are getting heavier and the thunder ever louder.

The M&G wishes “The Arch” a happy birthday. We do so fully realising that the best present we can give him is not the Dalai Lama, but a sincere desire to create a South Africa better than the one that “just saddens” him.

Read the second half of the editorial “Bodies of evidence