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The first-hand truth about Tutu

“AAAH, February, the month of sunshine and Saint Valentine!” beamed Luke the Dude at the chilled conversationists congregating in the sunny garden of Karmenaadjie – the late local Pub & Grill being no more. (Personally, I prefer the leafy evening sunshine to second-hand smoke in semi-darkness.)

“So what’s up, Prof?” continued Luke, “did you manage to get David Benatar’s book on the Fall of UCT?”

“I did indeed,” nodded The Prof while frowning at his uncooperative pipe. “And it was everything I expected from my esteemed colleague – detailed, thoughtful and entirely convincing. You should read it.”

“Now why would I do that?” winked Luke the Dude, “when I have you to tell me about it?”

“Harrumph!” opined The Prof. “You know, Lucas my boy, I may just indulge your laziness and do so. But now I want to hear from our friend who chronicles our sins and solutions for the readers of Cape Business News. Much has been written about Archbishop Desmond Tutu after his passing, some of it quite controversial. Did you ever meet him, Peter old boy, in your many years as ace reporter?”

“Easy with the Ace in these Magashule times please,” I replied (please forgive me, dear reader, for quoting myself, just reporting what happened), “and yes I did meet him – first as Bishop of Johannesburg and later as Archbishop of Cape Town.”

“Well, pray tell us,” asked The Prof in his humble manner, “what is your experience of him?”

So I did. Here goes:

The first time was in Johannesburg while I was reporting for The Star, in those days one of the biggest and best dailies in the world. John Allen, my colleague and friend, was the religion reporter and knew Tutu well. But he had to go off on a trip and I was given the job to interview the already famous / infamous bishop.

I asked John for a quick briefing and some Anglican details such as, “What should I call him?” No problem. “Just call him Father.” Well, I muttered, my mother won’t like that, but I suppose “Dominee” won’t do. “Correct,” confirmed John.

I could not reach Tutu by telephone and, as it was getting frustratingly late, I took off for Braamfontein with the address of his office. There I found the building already locked for the night, but on the fifth floor one office had a light on. R2 then meant the same as R20 now, and thát, together with a friendly smile and a humble request for help, got me past the guard and through the door, where I made my way upstairs.

On the fifth floor the light identified the office. I had no reason to believe it was Tutu’s office, but it was the only chance I had. So I knocked. On the “Come in” I opened the door and there he was – sitting behind the bookish desk, not looking up and earnestly studying the pages in front of him. I waited. It took a while.

When he did look up, he was startled to see a big, bearded stranger. “How did you get in?” he demanded. Those were the times when Rick Turner was assassinated and Steve Biko died in the back of a police truck. I smiled, said that the kind security guard had relented and let me in, introduced myself as from The Star, conveyed John Allen’s best wishes and apologized for disturbing him as he was obviously working late.

Then he relaxed, invited me in and offered me a chair. I stated my business and he graciously and in detail answered my questions. That done, I asked him to indulge my curiosity as to what had kept him at the office so late. “Oh, he said, looking at the book in front of him, I am reading The Bible.”

“Yes,” he explained when he saw my surprise, “this is the best time. There’s nobody around, the phone doesn’t ring and I can concentrate.” I thanked him for his overtime-time, wished him a safe drive home and left, closing the door behind me. How about that, I thought, working overtime to read The Bible.

“Thank you,” pondered The Prof, “the reason I asked is a recent article by John Kane-Berman on the Daily Friend, where he expertly critiqued Tutu’s Truth Commission – and I saw that you had reacted in the Comments section.”

“So I did,” I replied, adding the context:

My reaction was not to John Kane-Berman’s article, which is an admirable piece of journalism. It was to one of the social media trolls who grabbed the opportunity to feel important as a commentator. This person claims to have served at something he calls the “South Intelligence School”, which, of course, makes him a fundi on underground ANC/MK operatives of the 70s and 80s. But the “school” evidently fed him propaganda agnostic to the facts, which did annoy me. So I reacted along these lines:

“Tutu never spurred crowds on to armed struggle, as you fabricate. He did the opposite, I was there. Tutu often took the stage, or whatever served as one, when crowds were on a knife-edge leaning towards mob violence – and then slowly, reassuringly, he gained their confidence and led them into disciplined, non-violent protest. And after that, they went home. That I personally witnessed time and again as political journalist in the 80s. And you have the temerity to spread your vicious falsehoods, sinking all the way to the slander that Tutu “was the MK underground commander in the Western Cape at one stage”. How despicably, maliciously wrong.

“The truth is, again, the opposite of what you say. For example, After the FW de Klerk government lifted the bans on the ANC and others and scrapped the last apartheid laws, some young Anglican priests were keen to join as ANC activists. Tutu said fine, of course you are free to do so, but only when you resign from the priesthood. You cannot serve both masters, no matter who the other master is.”

And thát is the truth about Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

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