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South Africa: Tutu on War and Poverty
South Africa: Tutu on War and Poverty
Date distributed (ymd): 011106
Document reposted by APIC
Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information
service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa
Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American
Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for
Africa at http://www.africapolicy.org
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+
This posting contains an interview by Akwe Amosu of allAfrica.com
with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, reposted with permission from
allAfrica.com. In the interview, which took place in Washington on
November 1, Archbishop Tutu speaks about the U.S. war on
Afghanistan, and poverty and AIDS in South Africa.
Archbishop Tutu also served as the president of the All Africa
Conference of Churches from 1987 to 1997. For his farewell
address to that continent-wide group, see
Tutu Says Poverty, Aids Could Destabilise Nation
November 4, 2001
Last month, Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu turned 70, triggering a
flood of congratulations from around the globe.
The son of a schoolteacher and a domestic worker, he joined the
priesthood only after starting life as a teacher.
In 1976, in the wake of the uprising by young black South
Africans, Tutu was appointed General Secretary of the South
African Council of Churches (SACC) and became a nationally and
internationally known campaigner against apartheid, eventually
being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
In 1985, he was elected Bishop of Johannesburg and a year later,
Archbishop of Cape Town, where he was a thorn in the side of the
National Party regime in Pretoria and a powerful advocate for
change. It finally came in 1990 when President F.W. De Klerk
unbanned the ANC and the Communist Party and opened the way to
negotiations about a transfer of political power.
A year after the country's first democratic election in 1994,
President Mandela asked Archbishop Tutu to chair the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and investigate human rights
violations under apartheid. Archbishop Tutu and his fellow
Commissioners presented the TRC's report in October 1998, after
hearing three gruelling years of testimony.
He retired as Archbishop of Cape Town in June 1996, but was named
Archbishop Emeritus from July 1996. There has been widespread
anxiety about his health since he was diagnosed as having
On October 31, 2001, Desmond Tutu delivered the second Oliver
Tambo Lecture at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. It
contained a powerful call for reconciliation and against revenge
which many saw as a thinly-veiled critique of the US assault on
Afghanistan. The philosophy of "an eye for an eye" could not
achieve security, he said. "Violent reaction to the suicide
bombers... just seems to give rise to further suicide bombers."
Akwe Amosu interviewed Archbishop Tutu the day after he spoke in
Washington, DC. Excerpts:
Amosu: Are we right to read your Georgetown speech as a
suggestion to the US and the American people that they should
reconsider the bombing campaign in Afghanistan?
Tutu: Oh yes. I think so. I was hoping that, by being oblique,
one would still be able - without making people too defensive -
to begin to open up and try to look at the consequences of what
we're doing and why we're doing it, to look at what we're trying
to achieve and whether it is achievable. For their own sakes,
Amosu: Do you think that message will be heard in the right
Tutu: (laughter) Well, you keep hoping that it'll get through,
but there is, at the moment, an almost obsessive demand that
something must happen. And even if it isn't succeeding, that
people should see that action is taking place.
Because I think that there is a sense of bewilderment amongst the
people in this country. They have always been the ones who have
been hitting out and it was something that was happening out
there, thousands of miles away, with their smart bombs, often
with very few American casualties. So they had this distance. And
they also had, I think, a very deep sense of security which turns
out, in fact, to have been false.
They are yet not able to understand how a defence system that is
so sophisticated, so expensive, could have been rendered so
thoroughly obsolete [by the events of September 11] and useless
to defend them. They can't quite understand that yet, not
surprisingly, I don't think. If you've always been the top dog,
and suddenly you discover, "Hey, I'm just like any other human
being. We are like any other human society. We're vulnerable.
Amosu: What's the worst thing that could happen if this message
doesn't get heard?
Tutu: Well, one of the things is what it will do to the American
people. Which is that they might want to turn a blind eye to
something that they know is wrong. And that will erode their true
greatness. And in a way, I think one has to say, look, this is a
remarkable community of people. They are a really good, really
generous, caring people. And yet, in an odd kind of way, they're
also a vindictive people. I mean when you look at how they still
hold on to capital punishment, when it is abandoned in so many
places. I mean America could not become a member of the European
Union. They would be disqualified because they still support
capital punishment. They are, as it were, subverting the
possibilities of true greatness. And the reaction from the world
will be the sort of thing that makes September the 11th possible.
There is an anger, a resentment in the rest of the world,
especially in the so-called Third World, that the United States
can support whoever they want to support, if, at that time, it is
in their so-called national interest. They have tended to support
despots, people whose human rights record is appalling. I mean,
when you consider that Osama bin Laden is really a creature of
the United States, something they maybe do not want to face up
to. Think of what's happened with Contras in Nicaragua, with
Savimbi in Angola, with Marcos in the Philippines; you can go on
and on like that and it is worrisome. It is worrisome that they
can have seemed so reckless about the consequences of their
policies for other people. And one is saying, please, please, for
your own sakes - and of course for the sake of the rest of the
world - reconsider, reappraise, what you are about.
Amosu: Moving away from Afghanistan now, to South Africa, your
own country. I know that you're deeply concerned about the
problem of poverty in South Africa today and, in fact, you've
recently said that if the gap between the rich and the poor is
not closed, we can "kiss reconciliation goodbye". Is South
Africa's transition really as vulnerable as that?
Tutu: Well, it is not just an unreasonable idea that comes from
Archbishop Desmond Tutu; it was contained as one of major
recommendations of our five-volume report of the TRC, that
reconciliation means that those who have been on the underside of
history must see that there is a qualitative difference between
repression and freedom.
And for them, freedom translates into having a supply of clean
water, having electricity on tap; being able to live in a decent
home and have a good job; to be able to send your children to
school and to have accessible health care. I mean, what's the
point of having made this transition if the quality of life of
these people is not enhanced and improved? If not, the vote is
Amosu: So how do you explain, that seven years on, this is the
situation we're faced with?
Tutu: In part, I think we've had a failure of leadership on the
part of the white community where, you would have hoped that many
of the leaders would have said, "hey, we're very, very fortunate.
We have people on the other side who could so easily have gone on
the rampage, and destroyed everything that we have. They haven't
done so. They have been patient seven years."
I mean, I am, myself, still very, very, very amazed that people
can show that kind of patience. But we've already seen what could
be warning lights with the land invasions. I mean, it may be
copycatting the things in Zimbabwe, but I don't think so. I think
that there are people who are beginning to say, "what's the
Amosu: But are you right to place the blame at the door of the
white leadership? I mean, you've got an ANC government which has
a huge majority, which many other governments would love to have,
and support from all over the world for the transition. Surely,
tackling poverty is a job for the government?
Tutu: Well, you can distribute resources only if you have
resources. I'm not exonerating the government from all blame, but
I still believe that it would have been far better for the acts
of generosity to emanate from those who have benefited from
apartheid for all these years and who still own a big share of
the resources. I mean when you look at the Stock Exchange, only
maybe about 10% has changed hands.
You know, it's possible for the government to pass legislation
and therefore force people to do what is in their own interests.
But it would be better if they were to say, we really do want to
see transformation happen, we are ready to do as much as we can,
voluntarily; because you don't want to build up resentment in
them. Because you are trying to create a new kind of society, a
new kind of people, not a situation where this has to happen
because the law says it has to happen. There's got to be a
generosity in response to the magnanimity that came from the
other side. That's the idealistic view.
Amosu: But you know, some people would say: "Look, the government
started out right; they said they were going to follow the
Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which was
specifically designed to give the poor a new start; but then they
abandoned it and adopted what even the South African Council of
Churches leadership has described as a kind of homegrown
structural adjustment program that could have been created by the
World Bank." (laughter) So many would say that the government has
set the example.
Tutu: Well, we mustn't be too harsh on them because I think, for
one thing, we've forgotten that we're talking about people who,
apart from having never voted at all, had no experience of
government. And we've got to take our hats off to them, that we
have been able to maintain the kind of stability that we have.
I mean there are things like the supply of water to so many
people who previously didn't have it and the housing units... I
mean I'm not too enamored with what they have built, but they
have built probably about a million, or something like that.
There are some achievements to their credit. But they are also
struggling in this globalised economy. To try to reassure foreign
investors that we are not just spendthrift socialists, as people
have feared. And it may be that they have bent over too far
backwards in trying to reassure foreign investors, at the expense
of maybe some real intervention by the public sector, where they
could have justified a great deal more public spending on so many
projects that would have benefited the people. And yes, they
leave themselves open, to some extent. Their fiscal policies,
their military policies, are perhaps far too stringent.
Amosu: But the RDP is apparently making a kind of comeback. The
Black Empowerment Commission Report publicised a few months ago
looks very like the old RDP...
Tutu: I haven't seen that. But you know, part of the reason why
one has been making the plea for the 'Marshall Plan' kind of
strategy is that it is actually a bit much to expect this new
democratic government to deal with a quite horrendous legacy left
behind by apartheid, and, equally, to be trying to modernize, to
do the things that a government should be doing, without worrying
about the backlog. I think it is a bit unfair. (laughter)
Amosu: So tell me about the Marshall Plan idea. What does it
Tutu: Well, as you can realize, I'm not an economist. I'm not too
smart with figures. I thought that it would be peanuts for the
United States to give us two billion dollars - not for keeps -
say, over a five year period. They could put down very strong,
stringent conditions of what it should be spent on - maybe
housing, education, health, releasing, therefore, what the
government would be spending on these things, to do other things.
You see, it's not just South Africa that was devastated, but
Namibia, the Frontline states, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Zambia
and all those places. And it ends up being very enlightened
self-interest. Because if you are able then to get those
economies vibrant, Voila! You may be able to market for western
economies. And when there is a relative measure of prosperity,
you know that it's more likely that area will be stable. And this
spin-off is tremendous. Because it is a lot easier to promote
democracy and good governance in a situation where there is
Amosu: Have you had any kind of response, at any kind of
government or corporate reaction to this proposal?
Tutu: Well, when I first floated the idea, I did meet up with
some people from Congress - members of the Black Congressional
Caucus, one or two senators. And I was actually quite surprised
at how warmly they responded to it; but of course this was
pre-September the 11th. They were very supportive. And didn't
shoot it down, I mean as something that wouldn't even reach first
base. I spoke to one or two prime ministers in Europe. And again,
they weren't saying, "Oh, this is an outlandish, bizarre idea."
They thought there was merit.
Amosu: Let me ask you about Aids. We read a lot of terrible
stories about HIV/Aids in South Africa. Is it really as bad as
Tutu: It's very bad. It's quite shattering. I mean, when you look
at the obituary notices in newspapers, the Sowetan publishes a
list of obituary notices every Friday and it's quite amazing. My
wife is not ghoulish, but she likes looking at it because you get
to hear about people that you know. What is now note-worthy is,
how young the deceased are. Increasingly, it's young people. And
they can't all be dying from TB or something like this. It is
devastating and there is no doubt at all, that unless there is a
very significant and decisive intervention, we're going to be
Amosu: The church has put itself right at the forefront of the
fight against Aids with the trade unions and other elements of
civil society. Is that the right place for the church to be and
what should it be doing?
Tutu: Well they were in the forefront in the struggle for
freedom. And it's the same kind of justification that the Gospel
speaks about, the issues that are important to people. Health is
important to people. Good life is important to people. Our faith
is not one that says, "We're going to have to wait for pie in the
sky, by and by, kind of thing." Human life in the 'here and now'
is of very great concern to God. And I mean, our Lord could have
very well told people, who came, who were sick, "don't worry.
You'll have a wonderful time in heaven." He spent time healing
them. And when they were hungry, he spent time feeding them. And
that's the mandate for the church. And I'm very thrilled that my
successor as Archbishop is way out there in front and really
giving outstanding leadership in a very critical, what is
actually catastrophic - thing that is facing us.
Amosu: There appears to be a deep division and ambivalence within
the foremost ranks of the South African government about tackling
this problem head on. What's going wrong?
Tutu: We're spending far too much time that we can't afford, in
academic discussions about what causes Aids - is it this or that?
And I think that it's something that we should please desist
from. We can't afford to be fiddling, as our particular Rome
Amosu: But what seems to be happening is that the lack of
leadership is filtering further down through the ranks and
showing up in some very immoderate language. For example, the ANC
in KwaZulu accused the head of the South African Council of
Churches of being an agent of the pharmaceutical companies
because he had said that anti-retroviral treatments should be
Tutu: Well, I don't want to be involved in all the mud-slinging.
But I'm just saying that we ought to acknowledge that we're
facing a very, very serious challenge and that we ought to stop
playing marbles. People are dying.
It is possible - the evidence is there - for the lives of people
to be extended; for the quality of life to improve, once they
have been diagnosed as having Aids. Through being given the right
kind of drugs; that seems to be incontrovertible. And for
goodness sake, let's try to use the methods that have been tried
and found to be reasonably effective. There is no cure as yet,
but we are aware that you can make a very significant difference
if you tackle the thing head on.
Amosu: Leaving the government aside, which obstacle is the
biggest? Is it that people just don't want to talk about the
realities of what's going on, or that people just don't want to
talk about sex?
Tutu: That used to be the case, but I don't think that it is any
longer. I mean there are still people who may be in denial, but I
believe, that in the overall, people are saying, we are facing a
massive challenge. We really ought to get our act together, and
the new alliance between the churches and the trade unions gives
very considerable cause for hope.
Even the government will realize that they can't just dismiss
people as being irresponsible, because I don't think the
Archbishop of Cape Town would want to be associated with
something that was not a serious venture.
Amosu: Finally, I know you're always so modest, but I think you
know that you're very loved all over the world. And the main
question most people would ask is, how are you? How's your health
and are you making your way out of your illness?
Tutu: People are very, very good and many have prayed for me. I
sometimes say, half facetiously, that God must have been saying,
"Oh dear, not all these many prayers for this one man? The best
way to deal with this thing is to make him better!" So I'm
better. And I want to say a very big 'thank you' to everybody who
has been praying for me, and thank you to people who have
provided me with medical care.
Amosu: Thank you very much indeed.
Tutu: God bless you. Thank you.
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by
Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information
Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa).
Africa Action's information services provide accessible
information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and
international policies toward Africa that advance economic,
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