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Desmond Tutu/Role in South Africa

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Desmond Tutu
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The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu
Early Life
Tutu's role during apartheid
Tutu's role since apartheid
Role in South Africa
Chairman of the Elders
Role in the Third World
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Role in South Africa

Tutu is widely regarded as "South Africa's moral conscience"[1] and has been described by former President of South Africa, 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 his 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 to deal with poverty, and the recent outbreaks of xenophobic violence in some townships in South Africa.

After a decade of freedom for South Africa, Tutu was honoured with the invitation to deliver the annual Nelson Mandela Foundation Lecture. On 23 November 2004 Tutu gave an address entitled, "Look to the Rock from Which You Were Hewn." This lecture, critical of the ANC-controlled government, stirred a pot of controversy between Tutu and Thabo Mbeki, calling into question "the right to criticise."[2]

Continued economic stratification and political corruption

He made a stinging attack against South Africa's political elite, saying the country was "sitting on a powder keg"[3] because of its failure to alleviate poverty a decade after apartheid's end. Tutu also said that attempts to boost black economic ownership were only benefiting an elite minority, while political "kowtowing" within the ruling ANC was hampering democracy. Tutu asked, "What is black empowerment when it seems to benefit not the vast majority but an elite that tends to be recycled?"[3]

Tutu criticised politicians for debating whether to give the poor an income grant of $16 (£12) a month and said the idea should be seriously considered. Tutu has often spoken in support of the Basic Income Grant (BIG) which has so far been defeated in parliament. After the first round of volleys were fired, South African Press Association journalist, Ben Maclennan reported Tutu's response as: "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."[4]

Tutu warned of corruption shortly after the re-election of the African National Congress government of South Africa, saying that they "stopped the gravy train just long enough to get on themselves."[5] In August 2006 Tutu publicly urged Jacob Zuma, the South African politician who had been accused of sexual crimes and corruption, to drop out of the ANC's 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"."[6]

Attacks on Tutu

The head of the Congress of South African Students condemned Tutu as a "loose cannon" and a "scandalous man" — a reaction which prompted an angry 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 "had 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's public criticism of Zuma are reflections of a turbulent time in South African politics.[7]

Xenophobic violence in 2008

Tutu has condemned the xenophobic violence which occurred in some parts of South Africa in May 2008. Tutu, who once intervened in the apartheid years to prevent a mob 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 Defence force. Tutu called on South Africans to end the violence as thousands of refugees have sought refuge in shelters.[8]

  1. "Archbishop Desmond Tutu lambasts African silence on Zimbabwe". USA Today. 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  2. Tutu, Mbeki & others (2005). "Controversy: Tutu, Mbeki & the freedom to criticise". Centre for Civil Society.,28,10,1763. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Tutu warns of poverty 'powder keg'". BBC. 23 November 2004. 
  4. Maclennan, Ben (2 December 2004). "Quotes of the Week". Sapa. 
  5. Carlin, John. "Interview with Tutu". PBS Frontline. Retrieved 2006-09-07. 
  6. "S Africa is losing its way - Tutu". BBC. 27 September 2006. 
  7. "Zuma camp lashes out at 'old' Tutu". Mail & Guardian. 1 September 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-01. 
  8. "'Please, please stop'". News24. 19 May 2008.,,2-7-12_2325358,00.html. Retrieved 2008-05-31. 

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