Even in retirement, Desmond Tutu remained South Africa’s moral compass
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Long after leading the nonviolent struggle against apartheid, Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, who died on Sunday at the age of 90, continued to serve as a moral compass for South Africa, even if it meant criticizing two central institutions in his life: his church and the old liberation movement. .
Although he officially retired from public life in 2010 – promising to quietly sip tea with his wife and visit his grandchildren – Archbishop Tutu remained a staunch supporter of what he saw as fair and equitable, including a multitude of causes such as social and climate justice.
He also opposed corruption and lack of accountability under the African National Congress, as well as discrimination, calling on the Anglican Church not to take a stronger stance in favor of gay rights.
“If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship this God,” he told the BBC in 2007, after the election of the first openly gay episcopal bishop in the United States led to the Anglican Church to tackle the problem. .
Gay rights later became a personal cause for Archbishop Tutu.
When his daughter Mpho Tutu, an Anglican priest, married longtime partner Marceline van Furth in 2015, he publicly supported him. When his marriage led the church to revoke his license and remove him from the priesthood, he also supported his choice.
Yet Archbishop Tutu remained loyal to the church, said Dr Mamphela Ramphele, a former anti-apartheid activist who spoke on behalf of the family on Sunday.
Although he was saddened by the church rules, Dr Ramphele said, Archbishop Tutu followed them to his daughter’s wedding.
“He was not allowed to bless them and he followed the precepts of the church when they married,” said Dr Ramphele.
Archbishop Tutu also used his post-church platform, primarily the Desmond and Leah Legacy Foundation, to denounce “adaptation apartheid,” the growing divide between rich and poor countries in responding to climate change. .
Through the foundation, he added his voice to calls for climate justice and accountability from governments and big business.
Last year he met with former Vice President Al Gore in Cape Town to discuss divesting from fossil fuels. And her foundation invited Ugandan climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate to speak on her behalf, alongside Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
In a video message ahead of the conference, Archbishop Tutu called the destruction of the environment a “human rights challenge of our time.”
Over the years, it has lent its name to other causes as well, including the promotion of social cohesion, which is at the heart of the Desmond Tutu Peace Center, and HIV research.
At the height of the HIV / AIDS epidemic, when South Africa’s public health response was marred by inconsistency and unease, Archbishop Tutu’s name helped a Cape Town research center to make itself known, allowing it to become one of the main institutions of its kind.
Towards the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, it was Archbishop Tutu who coined the phrase “the rainbow nation” to describe the optimism of a multiracial South Africa. But over the following years, he did not temper his criticism of the new government or the African National Congress.
While maintaining a close friendship with the party leader and South Africa’s first black leader, President Nelson Mandela – the two mocked each other’s clothing choices – Archbishop Tutu criticized the successors by Mr. Mandela. He notably expressed his disappointment with President Jacob Zuma, who resigned in 2018 and whose administration has been marred by corruption scandals.
Indeed, in 2011 Archbishop Tutu was openly furious when the South African government led by Mr. Zuma refused to grant the Dalai Lama a visa to attend Archbishop Tutu’s 80th birthday celebrations.
“Our government, which represents me – represents me – says it will not support Tibetans who are viciously oppressed by the Chinese,” Archbishop Tutu said at a visibly angry press conference.
The South African government, suspected of winning the favor of the Chinese government, denied the Tibetan spiritual leader a visa three times, in 2009 and again in 2014, when he was scheduled to attend a summit meeting of Nobel Prize winners alongside Archbishop Tutu.
Archbishop Tutu’s criticism of the ruling African National Congress continued, and in 2013 he said he would not vote for the party because he failed to deliver on his promise of justice. social.
The rift between the Nobel Prize winner and the former liberation movement was also evident later that year when Mr Mandela passed away. The government initially snubbed Archbishop Tutu, despite his importance and relationship, but then invited him to speak at the public memorial service.
Last May, in one of his last public appearances, Archbishop Tutu was given his coronavirus vaccine, in the hopes that he would encourage others to get vaccinated and dispel the misinformation, which has affected the adoption of the vaccine in South Africa.
“All my life I have tried to do the right thing and today getting vaccinated against Covid-19 is definitely the right thing to do,” he said after receiving the vaccine, adding that it was a “wonderful” chance to get out. of the House.
“Believe me, when you get to our age,” he said, “little needles worry you a lot less than bending over.”
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