Tutu tells of apartheid struggle

by Charles Gardner | 5/14/02 5:00am

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has always felt it his duty to speak out against injustice, regardless of the consequences.

"Sometimes when you have to speak the truth, it is like swimming against the current," he told a rapt crowd in Spaulding Auditorium yesterday during a talk that focused on the successful effort to dismantle South Africa's apartheid system.

The capacity crowd of students, faculty and community members rose to its feet to welcome the 70-year-old Tutu as soon as College President James Wright concluded his introductory remarks, giving a rousing welcome to a man who has dedicated his life to fighting injustice while preaching forgiveness and reconciliation.

Tutu, a native of South Africa and an archbishop in the Anglican church, was intimately involved in the campaign to end apartheid, winning a Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts in 1984.

The dissolution of South Africa's apartheid regime came about through patience and the convergence of several occurrences which created a favorable climate for change, he said.

With the end of the Cold War, the ascension of South African President F.W. De Klerk and the release of political prisoner Nelson Mandela, Tutu said "the pieces fell into place" for both the South African population and the international community to rise up and demand an end to the racist regime.

In particular, he cited the efforts of college students -- who in the 1980s boycotted South African products and pushed for divestment from South African companies -- as critical components in the process of bringing apartheid to its knees.

At one point during the speech, entitled "Crying in the Wilderness: A Struggle for Justice in South Africa," Tutu invited audience members to imagine themselves as South African citizens grateful for the assistance of the global community in defying apartheid. An appeal to recognize this assistance with applause initially met only with a subdued response.

"It is because you have never been un-free," Tutu admonished the crowd. "This is not how you would have saluted someone who helped make you free."

A second appeal was then met with a thunderous ovation.

Tutu continued by saying that any opposition to injustice -- whether in South Africa or elsewhere -- must be centered on the principles of forgiveness and reconciliation.

"An enemy is a friend waiting to be made," he said, though he added that the path of forgiveness requires moral strength and faith that God will not let "oppression and injustice have the last word."

"It's easier to be violent and destructive than constructive," he said.

Nor is South Africa the only country that has drawn Tutu's attention. In an interview with The Dartmouth yesterday, he also spoke out against what he called "reprehensible" actions by Israeli government.

A speech Tutu delivered in Boston last month in which he criticized Israeli actions against Palestinians -- which he likened to the treatment of blacks under apartheid -- drew criticism from some Jewish organizations.

But Tutu, energetic, jovial and appearing younger than his 70 years, maintained that he has been unfairly targeted for his remarks.

"The minute you say something critical, they say you are anti-Semitic," he said. "Otherwise you must say that [Israel] is the only government in the world that is infallible, when of course they are not infallible."

Tutu said his speaking out against Israeli injustice was fueled by the same motivations that drove his criticism of the United States and Great Britain during apartheid, criticism which he said was not met with charges of "being anti-white, anti-American or anti-English."

"Tough luck if others think I am anti-Semitic. I have always said I will be fervently anti-injustice," Tutu said.

Referring to Jewish scriptures, Tutu said he was "distressed" that a people so mindful of a past filled with persecution could "suffer from amnesia" in their dealings with others.

In his speech, Tutu said that after the struggle in South Africa, which he said presented seemingly impossible challenges, "people can never again speak of a problem that is intractable."

"If peace was possible in South Africa," he said, "then peace must be possible" in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

Asked about continuing problems in South Africa since the collapse of apartheid in 1994, Tutu said that the country must address problems of rampant crime, poor health care and above all else, the spread of AIDS, which is more prevalent in South Africa than in any other country in the world.

"The first and most important thing you must do is not deny that you have a problem," Tutu said of the disease, South African President Thabo Mbeki has downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic, including questioning the link between HIV and AIDS.

AIDS sufferers "must not be made to be modern-day lepers," he said.

Tutu is visiting Dartmouth through the Montgomery Endowment, which was established to bring notable figures in academic and non-academic fields to speak at the College and interact with students.