a season when we have lost so many Black leaders, Archbishop Desmond
Tutu has left us in body at age 90 but remains with us in spirit as
known as the “Arch,” Tutu was a theologian and human
rights activist who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent
efforts at breaking apart the apartheid system in South Africa.
Apartheid, which kept Black South Africans separated into Bantustan
homelands, without rights and violently oppressed in their own
country, and which was bolstered by a legal system of racial
hierarchy, placing white people at the top. This was South Africa’s
own version of Jim Crow segregation in the U.S. and the Nuremberg
laws in Nazi Germany.
passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is another chapter of
bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of
outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South
African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Archbishop Tutu was a giant in the struggle for freedom and justice
in apartheid South Africa, much less is known about his fight for
women’s rights and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, the
Palestinian people and the environment.
example, he once said he “would rather
go to hell
to a homophobic heaven” and proclaimed that “If God, as
they say, is homophobic, I
wouldn’t worship that God.”
Tutu advocated at the United Nations for equality for women and
LGBTQ+ people and was known for his empathy
as he stood with them and supported same-sex marriage. “People
are penalized solely on the basis of their sexual orientation - I
oppose such injustice with the same passion I opposed apartheid,”
mourns the passing of Desmond Tutu, whose humanity & compassion
were equalled only by his courage & principled commitment in our
shared struggle for justice & freedom. His support for Palestine
was an embrace of love & empathy. I’m honoured to have had
him as a friend,” tweeted
Palestinian Minister of Higher Education Hanan Ashrawi.
the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian people - a system
that Israel’s leading human rights organization calls apartheid
- Tutu found that with policies of separation walls and home
demolitions, the situation in the Palestinian territories is in some
ways worse than in apartheid South Africa.
Israeli politicians are aware they can get away with almost anything
because the West is guilty. It feels guilty about what they didn’t
do when the Holocaust happened, and they’ve given a kind of
carte blanche. Now, if they are penitent, they ought to be the ones
who pay the price of that penitence. But the price is being paid by
the Palestinians,” Tutu told David Frost in a 2011 Al
President Jimmy Carter.
of my own concern for what is happening there is in fact not what is
happening to the Palestinians, but it is what the Israelis are doing
to themselves,” Tutu added. “I mean, when you go to those
checkpoints, and you see these young soldiers behaving abominably
badly, they are not aware that when you carry out dehumanizing
policies, whether you like it or not, quite inexorably those policies
dehumanize the perpetrator.”
Archbishop Tutu spoke out for environmental
against climate change, calling for an “apartheid-style boycott
to save the planet” and lobbying President Obama to stop the
Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S.
had the privilege of seeing Archbishop Tutu speak during the
apartheid era. The year was 1986, and I was a sophomore at Harvard
University when he came to the Kennedy
speak about the state of apartheid and the movement against the South
African regime. The anti-apartheid movement was in full force in
America, including the student effort at institutions such as Harvard
to divest from the white supremacist regime. I sat in the second row
with a few of my friends - we had waited hours in the cold for
tickets - right behind his family members, who were in attendance.
cited the role of “people power” and the anti-apartheid
movement on college campuses in changing the game, pushing the U.S.
Congress to vote on sanctions against South Africa. Congress passed
sanctions later that year.
- as you have been doing - you support the struggle for justice for
peace for reconciliation, then the victims of apartheid - that
vicious, evil, immoral system - have their morale boosted so that
your impact is a positive one on the victims of apartheid. And they
say people care, the world cares, and therefore our cause must be
just. Our cause is a noble cause, and our cause will prevail in the
end despite all appearances to the contrary,” Tutu
said in his address.
it has a negative impact on the perpetrators of apartheid - what you
do and what you say - if it is in support of justice and peace and
reconciliation. For the perpetrators of an evil system will find ways
of seeking to discredit you. Because as the only answer they will
have to the truth, they can’t match up your truth, your
justice, your goodness with their own. And so, they use the old ploy
of ‘you are communist inspired’ - and you know it’s
made a difference.”
one who would later become a human rights activist and advocate for
social and racial justice, I was inspired by this man. Archbishop
Tutu had a giant spirit, a man of God who spoke truth to power and
showed us the way to stand up for the human dignity of all people. It
is the path few travel because it is not a place of comfort and
years later, as a law student at the University of Pennsylvania, I
had the good fortune to walk into Archbishop Tutu on campus. He had
come to give the university commencement address. I shook his hand,
told him what a pleasure it was to speak with him and thanked him for
what he had done.
you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side
of the oppressor,” Tutu once said. As we confront the
present-day struggles against structures of injustice, white
supremacy and white minority rule, we need the spirit of Archbishop
Desmond Tutu. Rest in power.
commentary was originally published by The