Desmond Tutu RIP
By Stephen Stow
In February 2007, I flew to Hong Kong to attend a Venture Capital conference. It was held by a fund run by my long-term business partner from Hong Kong, Josephine. She has been to our church. It was the practice to have a surprise famous guest speaker. You never know who, until the day.
That year it was Desmond Tutu. I always try and sit in the front row at such events and did so then. I have never forgotten his presence in that room of 500 people. He was a small diminutive man, but beaming with peace and power. You could almost touch his pure channeling of Spirit. His mandate was to share a small piece of his experience as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. ( TARC)
He captivated us all with his humility, and total lack of any air of self-importance.
He first focused us on his awareness of the need for a peaceful transformation of power in South Africa, and the horror of the flaming necklace, used by locals on each other and on whites in the last few years. This transformation depended entirely on the character of the 3 decisive actors at the time; de Klerk as the leader of the South African Afrikaner ruling white party, Mandela himself as the freedom fighter in gaol for so many years, and DT as the spiritual leader and Archbishop of the South African Anglican church. As he put it, this was the only time in South Aftica history when all 3 actors in their roles had the right balance of awareness of the need for a positive change in history, humility and of forgiveness. To make a peaceful transfer of power was at the time considered both in and outside of South Africa as almost impossible. Even the European whites in South Africa were anti the strict Afrikaner.
But then Mandela was released in February 1990.
The fact that 2 Nobel Peace prizes were awarded, one each to Mandela and Tutu, brought up ironically on the same street in Soweto, says it all. They found forgiveness in their hearts, and the genuineness of it, attracted even the hardline members of the ANC South Africa had been a powder keg of civil war waiting to happen.
For me, the power of it all was accentuated by the fact that but 3 years before Mandela’s release, I had experienced this tension directly. I spent 6 weeks in South Africa, touring 6000 kms with one of my 2 brothers, who was working there . There was a clear ice-storm in the air of both disaffection and hatred between all the racial divisions established by the post WW2 Afrikaaners – whites , blacks, coloured and “ honorary whites “- the Chinese with money. But strangely, it was much more relaxed in the countryside, of, for example, Stellenbosch and the Cape, and in game reserves for tourists where peaceful co-operation between races seemed to flourish.
So the amazing concept of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee, to replace adversarial litigation, was eye opening, especially to someone who was a litigant by trade , and had felt the knife of heated tension cut through the butter of the autumn air, even though I was just an extended stay visitor.
Back to HK, February 2007
Tutu related a few of his amazing stories
But none sits so clearly in my memory as that of an old lady in a wheelchair, of a wealthy family who was in a park in Johannesburg, with her 3 white sons. Suddenly they were surrounded by a mob of local South Africans. Heated accusations were made about brutal treatment by the wealthy land owning sons of their own workers, including some in the mob. And a brutal death came for those 3 white sons, that day.
This was apparently a relatively common story in the end of days – though the old lady surviving was not so common.
Tutu had managed to get together a large number of the mob and the same elderly mother, in her wheelchair. As can be seen in the recent BBC documentary on Desmond Tutu, he took on himself the pain of those he was encouraging to shed their hatred. You could see him doubled up in anguish, head in his knees, on hearing and feeling the pain of the victims, as they tried to shed their hatred.
In the case of the old lady, the mob listened to Tutu and went on their own knees seeking her forgiveness, in their genuine river of tears.
Don’t forget, as I understand it, Tutu’s mandate as chairman of the TARC did not include any power to commit anyone to prison. Just to forgive; so any in his TARC actually seeking forgiveness would have no other agenda.
But the old lady sobbed herself. She also asked for forgiveness for not bringing up her children to be different from their father and forefathers, and able to love their black fellow men and women as equals.
I wept visibly then and now as I retell it for just the second time in 14 years, in honour of the passing of a giant of a man
I felt the channeling power of Desmond Tutu, the man, and his spirit as he simply channeled peace. So was the great power of the man.