Remarkable People

ID #5247

Desmond Tutu 5 Moral Compass.

Tutu is credited with coining the term Rainbow Nation as a metaphor for post-apartheid South Africa. The expression has since become a description of South Africa's ethnic diversity.

Since his retirement, Tutu has become a dedicated democracy, freedom and human rights activist. In 2006 he launched a global campaign, organized by Plan, to ensure that all children were registered at birth as an unregistered child did not officially exist and were thus vulnerable to traffickers and during disasters. Tutu is Patron of the educational improvement charity, Link Community Development.

He frequently joins and initiates actions with fellow Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in support of Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama. In March 2009 he was joined by more than 40 celebrities and 10,000 signatories in a letter on TheCommunity.com that urged Chinese officials to "stop naming, blaming and verbally abusing" the Dalai Lama and appealed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit and report on Tibet to the international community.

He announced he will retire from public life in October 2010 when he turns 79. "Instead of growing old gracefully, at home with my family – reading and writing and praying and thinking – too much of my time has been spent at airports and in hotels," he said in a statement. "The time has now come to slow down, to sip Rooibos tea with my beloved wife in the afternoons, to watch cricket, to travel to visit my children and grandchildren, rather than to conferences and conventions and university campuses."

Tutu is widely regarded as "South Africa's moral conscience" and has been described by Nelson Mandela, as "sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour, Desmond Tutu's voice will always be the voice of the voiceless". Since retirement Tutu has worked to critique the new South African government. Tutu has been vocal in condemnation of corruption, the ineffectiveness of the ANC-led government in dealing with poverty, and the recent outbreaks of xenophobic violence in some townships.

After a decade of freedom, Tutu was honoured with an invitation to deliver the annual Nelson Mandela Foundation Lecture. In November 2004 Tutu gave an address entitled "Look to the Rock from Which You Were Hewn". This lecture, critical of the ANC government, stirred controversy between Tutu and Thabo Mbeki, calling into question "the right to criticize".

He made a stinging attack on South Africa's political elite, saying the country was "sitting on a powder keg" because of its failure to alleviate poverty. Tutu also said attempts to boost black economic ownership only benefited an elite minority, while political "kowtowing" within the ruling ANC hampered democracy. Tutu asked, "What is black empowerment when it seems to benefit not the vast majority but an elite that tends to be recycled?"

Tutu criticized politicians for debating whether to give the poor an income grant of $16 (£12) per month and said the idea should be seriously considered. He has often spoken in support of a Basic Income Grant (BIG) which has thus far been defeated in parliament. After the first salvoes South African Press Association journalist, Ben Maclennan reported Tutu's response as follows: "Thank you Mr. President for telling me what you think of me, that I am a liar with scant regard for the truth, and a charlatan posing with his concern for the poor, the hungry, the oppressed and the voiceless."

Tutu warned of corruption shortly after the re-election of the ANC, saying that they "stopped the gravy train just long enough to get on themselves." In August 2006 Tutu publicly urged Jacob Zuma, who had been accused of sexual crimes and corruption, to drop out of the presidential succession race. He said in a public lecture that he would not be able to hold his "head high" if Zuma became leader after being accused both of rape and corruption. In September 2006, Tutu repeated his opposition to Zuma's candidacy as ANC leader due to Zuma's "moral failings"."

The head of the Congress of South African Students condemned Tutu as a "loose cannon" and a "scandalous man" — a reaction which prompted Mbeki to side with Tutu. Zuma's personal advisor responded by accusing Tutu of having double standards and "selective amnesia" (as well as being old). Elias Khumalo claims Tutu "found it so easy to accept the apology from the apartheid government that committed unspeakable atrocities against millions of South Africans", yet now "cannot find it in his heart to accept the apology from this humble man who has erred".

Tutu condemned the xenophobic violence which occurred in some parts of South Africa in May 2008. Tutu, who once intervened to prevent a mob from "necklacing" a man, said that when South Africans were fighting against apartheid they had been supported by people around the world and particularly in Africa. Although they were poor, other Africans welcomed South Africans as refugees, and allowed liberation movements to have bases in their territory even if it meant those countries were going to be attacked by the South African Defense Force.

In July 2007 Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, and Tutu convened The Elders, a group of world leaders to contribute their wisdom, kindness, leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world's problems. Mandela announced its formation in a speech on his 89th birthday. Tutu is serving as its Chairman. Other members include Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter, Li Zhaoxing, Mary Robinson, Muhammad Yunus and Aung San Suu Kyi, whose chair was left empty due to her confinement as a political prisoner in Burma.

"This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken,” Mandela commented. “Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair." The Elders will be independently funded by a group of Founders, including Richard Branson, Peter Gabriel, Ray Chambers, Michael Chambers, Bridgeway Foundation, Pam Omidyar, Humanity United, Amy Robbins, Shashi Ruia, Dick Tarlow and the United Nations Foundation.

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Last update: 2014-05-14 16:47
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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