Africa: Tutu pushed love to its limits
As chief confessor of South Africa’s transition to democracy, the Archbishop championed a vision of political justice rooted in atonement and empathy, rather than action and responsibility.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu will be remembered as an architect of South African democracy, although he was neither party negotiator nor author of the post-apartheid constitution. His conviction that reconciliation must be the cornerstone of South African liberation, a conviction shared by Nelson Mandela, helped define the founding compromise of the transition.
But he was not the flexible provider of absolution that the now exposed loopholes in this negotiated settlement may imply. The dropping of fundamental economic justice as a hallmark of the democratic era was a betrayal beyond its remit – Tutu was about symbols and hopes, not actions and wages. It did not shape the incremental substance of the liberal-capitalist bargain between the African National Congress and the National Party regime; he simply pushed for any compromise capable of delivering the precious dignity of electoral democracy and the urgent relief of peace.
Likewise, the failure to bring apartheid criminals to justice cannot be brought to his door, nor to that of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission he chaired. Decisions to grant immunity from prosecution to so many political killers, and not to prosecute anyone who has not obtained or even requested immunity, have been made by party politicians and prosecutors alike. they named.
Tutu championed the power of restorative justice, but he knew that it could only function legitimately in a proper balance with retributive justice. And the apartheid-era Tutus fought as hard for this simpler, colder form of justice as they later did for reconciliation. He was clearly not a pacifist, believing in the legitimacy of armed struggle in the absence of change, while still seeking in his own work to prevent the bloodshed.
He was also not allergic to radical conceptions of black resistance to racist violence. During the 1970s, when he worked for the Theological Education Fund and then became Bishop of Lesotho, Tutu was a leading figure in the liberation theology movement – and helped define his ideological affinity with the movement of the black conscience of South Africa.
Speaking at Steve Biko’s funeral in September 1977, Tutu described black consciousness as “a movement whereby God, through Steve, sought to awaken in the black person a sense of their intrinsic worth and worth in as a child of God “. And as dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in June 1976, he berated his white parishioners for their “deafening” silence in the wake of the Soweto uprising.
He later helped push the Anglican Church to embrace same-sex marriage, ordain women, respect the equivalence of other faiths. Throughout his career, he felt the latent emancipatory power of his institution and kept unlocking it, mixing persuasive charm and abrasive conviction.
“Respectability” and resistance
During the 1980s, Tutu made a rapid rise in the church hierarchy. His growing fame across the globe put an end to a sense of physical vulnerability he and his family had grown accustomed to – threats of assassination by state security forces were a part of his life in the 1970s. With each audience granted to him with a great Western head of state, he has entrenched the “respectability” of his campaign of resistance. But he deployed that special status with a much more angry and combative style than is now believed; the gentle warmth of the older Tutu’s presence can serve to eclipse his younger, harder self.
Tutu created and occupied a protean role in the space between the state and the forbidden liberation forces. He was a global lobbyist for the anti-apartheid movement. He was a tireless chaplain and theologian of the long struggle and its bloody conclusion, consoling and honoring the bereaved, tortured and imprisoned. He was a charismatic agent of political conscience, remorse and progressive action among the white population of South Africa. He was a vigorous interrogator of the consciousness of oppressors as well as liberators.
And of course, he was a showman – deploying his self-deprecating comedic flair to disarm, provoke, and engage.
By his own admission, Tutu’s appetite for approval and affection – even from the enemy – helped propel his charisma. It was “people like” in pop psychology parlance. “I love to be loved,” he said on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs in 1994. “And one of the most traumatic things for me was being the ogre, l man most white South Africans loved to hate. ” But compared to the imprisoned Mandela and other exiled ANC leaders, he was by no means an “ogre” in the white right-wing imagination; he was an irresistible priest whose very status as an establishment made him a particularly dangerous proposition for the regime. Preventive fear of Tutu’s demonization was a driving force, alongside his strategic and ethical convictions, in his persuasion policy.
It would be a cheap blow to accuse Tutu of having too much empathy, or too much vanity. These two emotional resources were essential fuels for his crucial contribution to the first chapter of the liberation project.
Restoration and repentance
But there might be a case to argue that his faith in the political power of faith was misplaced, or that he and other leaders at the time of reconciliation spurred a costly national push toward the ritualization of justice. Tutu’s idea of justice was expressed in the catharsis of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This was a process guided by restorative justice theory, but it was also imbued with the Christian notion that the burden of sin can be let go through repentance; by laying bare the history of a crime, both the victim and the perpetrator are to some extent healed.
But for both parties in this diagram, the timing of healing hinges on the presence of a divine hearer, implied or explicitly called upon. For the culprit to escape earthly justice, he must be accountable to God as well as to the victim. In order for the victim to grant forgiveness, she must imitate God in doing so. The authority of judges is bypassed by holy judgment.
And Tutu was just one figure among the millions who accepted that premise at that time. The viability of the TRC rested on the deep cultural motto of Christian belief in South African society, across racial and class divisions. A foundation of faith sustained resistance and endurance among the oppressed, as God was the only reliable judge available. But he also supported the oppressors, collaborators and beneficiaries, blaming their conscience and camouflaging their actions and inactions.
During the Commission hearings, Tutu himself was brought to tears by the escapes and repressions behind the psychological painting of white politicians of Christian religiosity. In particular, he was tormented by the refusal of former President FW De Klerk to admit that he had authorized – whether tacitly or explicitly, passively or actively – the grotesque violence inflicted by the security forces of the apartheid before and during the transition.
De Klerk’s deathbed apology for apartheid and his role in it, recorded in a video addressed to the nation in November, was clearly more sincere than the apology he had given to the Commission for decades previously. But it was once again incomplete and self-exculpatory, failing to confront his personal guilt in the extrajudicial killings that were committed long after his so-called Damascene conversion from high apartheid ideologue to intrepid reformer.
This may have bothered the sick Tutu, but it did not attack De Klerk’s elusive final atonement; he respected his old adversary’s final vulnerability as the two faced death.
Tutu’s credo has always been love. And love has limits.