Charter For Compassion is a good guide for continuing Tutu’s legacy

It is just more than a month since South Africa bade farewell and lala uxolo to our beloved Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a champion of peace and common-sense humanity and spirituality. In his wake, we are coming to terms with the fact that the champion of the deep values of unity, justice and compassion — in a word, ubuntu — has passed the baton to us, the people.

Among Tutu’s many legacies, one that stands out as being of utmost relevance is his contributions to what became the Charter For Compassion. Tutu’s interfaith work with the 14th Dalai Lama was instrumental in the creation of this document, launched globally and in Cape Town in 2010. The charter urges all people and religions to embrace compassion, focusing on the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. This simple awareness forms a solid basis for morality, and the potential for genuine unity between faiths.

Many of Cape Town’s faith and civic leaders and activists will reaffirm their commitment to the charter this Saturday, 5 February, as part of UN World Interfaith Harmony Week held from 1 to 7 February, during an event at Groote Kerk. Significantly, this church, formerly a bastion of apartheid theology, has transformed itself into a centre for dialogue and inclusion.

Unfortunately, it has become increasingly evident that as a city, Cape Town has a long way to go in transforming itself and actually implementing the values of compassion, justice and ubuntu, as evidenced for example in its treatment of homeless people during the height of Covid lockdown.

Furthermore, in March 2020, the city officially terminated its membership of the Charter’s original holding organisation, Compassionate Action Network International, for reasons that are not yet clear, despite having become a member in 2014. In its letter of termination, the city opted to emphasise not compassion, which is by definition active, but rather “caring city values”.

A new mayor for Cape Town has ushered in a new hope that the city might be open again to becoming truly compassion-informed in its decision-making process, both in policy as well as practice, and that both the people on the ground and the city leadership will come to work more closely together for the common good.

“Faith communities are in the best position to lead the way to healing, restoration and peace in society,” says Groote Kerk dominee Riaan de Villiers. “Our gathering in the Groote Kerk is a powerful reminder that change is possible and the Charter of Compassion a clear roadmap for effecting that change and becoming a more compassionate city”.

If we are to take up the work pioneered by Desmond Tutu, it may very well be that the Charter For Compassion is our best guide.

Nic Paton serves on the advisory board of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative. All are welcome to join the Charter recommitment event on Saturday, 5 February, 3pm, at Groote Kerk, Adderley Street. For other World Interfaith Harmony Week events, see the Facebook page, Cape Town Interfaith Dialogue.

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Nic Paton
Nic Paton serves on the advisory board of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative

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