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Archbishop Desmond Tutu: A man of God who liked to laugh

December 26, 2021 at 5:00 pm

Flowers are seen next to a portrait of South African anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu outside St. George’s cathedral in Cape Town on December 26, 2021 [GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images]

Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed away this morning.  He will be remembered differently by many people around world.  He was a Nobel Prize Laureate, a man of God, a fervent freedom fighter and a man of peace with an amazing sense of humour. Tutu was an architect of the South African democratic society.  He fought and led during the most difficult time in the history of South Africa whilst many political leaders were either in exile or imprisonment.

When the uprisings in Soweto were at their pinnacle, Tutu was there to give political direction.  He was in the forefront at funerals of victims of apartheid’s brutality and was always present at political marches and rallies.  He was also there when voices of reason were needed to calm volatile situations.  In 1985, he battled through a mob of angry blacks and rescued a man they were about to set afire for being in league with whites.  The incident occurred in Duduza township east of Johannesburg at the end of an emotional funeral for four black people.

Rest in Peace, Desmond Tutu [Mohammad Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Rest in Peace, Desmond Tutu [Mohammad Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

He chaired one of the most important political processes in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).  The TRC was a court like body established by the new South African government in 1995 to help heal the country and bring about a reconciliation of its people by uncovering the truth about human rights violations that had occurred during the period of apartheid rule.  South Africans of all backgrounds, victims and perpetrators of injustice approached the commission “to report and confess past violations and abuses during apartheid.”  As news of his passing broke this morning, many remembered Tutu breaking down, crying as he listened to gruesome testimonies at the TRC of how black people were treated during apartheid.

Tutu never stopped; he continued to fight for democracy.  He was an integral part of the group of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights.  Even in retirement, he continued to be vocal against injustice around the world and gave direction to global politics.  When former president George Bush led the US to invade Iraq in 2003, Tutu was swift in his condemnation.  In 2012 he called for the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George W Bush to face trial in The Hague for their role in the Iraq war.

Read: Veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Tutu dies aged 90

He was also very critical of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, “he drew parallels between Israeli occupation and apartheid in South Africa.”  He was equally troubled by high levels of corruption and mismanagement in post Mandela South Africa.

His relationship with the former president of South Africa Thabo Mbeki took a nasty turn when he criticized him for his handling of the AIDS pandemic and political chaos in Zimbabwe.  He also had strong words against those who failed to openly debate and challenge Mbeki’s controversial views on HIV and Aids, arguing that South Africa was “a democracy and not a dictatorship.”  He briefly emerged from retirement during the administration of President Zuma.

Speaking to journalists in 2016 in Cape Town Tutu said:

Mr. Zuma, you and your Government don’t represent me. You represent your own interest and I am warning you. I really am warning you out of love. I’m warning you like I warned the Nationalists. I am warning you. One day, we will start praying for the defeat of the ANC Government. You are disgraceful. I want to warn you. You are behaving in a way that is totally at variance with the things for which we stood.

Most of all, “The Arch” as he was affectionately referred to by many in South Africa, had an amazing sense of humor, he laughed spontaneously and was an amazing storyteller.  “My wife Leah always accuse me of name dropping.  I told her; funny the Queen said the same thing about me” he joked on one occasion.  One of his funny anecdotes involved the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.  When Mandela became the president in 1994, he swapped formal suits to Indo Malay style shirts.  Tutu accused Nelson Mandela of having a “weird fashion sense.” “I find this very funny coming from a man who wears dresses” Mandela retorted.   There are many other anecdotes by The Arch that got many around the world laughing.   He will certainly be missed, a nice guy who enjoyed a good joke and laughter.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.