Sipho Mabena

By Sipho Mabena

Premium Journalist


‘Visionary’ Desmond Tutu was no sellout – political experts

Political experts say those critical of the late archbishop are being naïve.


The global outpouring of grief for Archbishop Desmond Tutu and admiration for his contribution to humanity has been marred by scorn from his home country, largely from supporters of former president Jacob Zuma.

But political experts believe the international icon of peace’s critics can be forgiven for their naivety, given Tutu’s post-1994 role in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), where he made apartheid enforcers and activists face their atrocities.

Also worth noting is that Tutu was critical of the ANC after the Polokwane conference in December 2007, where Zuma took the reins of the party and ultimately the country, with analysts saying the vile spewed on Tutu’s memory should also be viewed from this context.

In October 2011, Tutu irately vowed South Africans would pray for the ANC’s downfall like they did with the apartheid government, stirring the ire of Zuma’s staunch backers.

Professor André Duvenhage, head of North-West University’s political science department, said he understood why some argued that Tutu was a sell-out but he disagreed.

“I think he compromised, he reconciled… he did not sell out. He has a huge legacy, he built bridges, he criticised the wrong side of apartheid and he criticised what he believed was wrong with the current dispensation. It was all about consistency. It was about a set of values, a set of norms,” he said.

Duvenhage said the only person of higher profile than Tutu was probably the late first president of the democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela, and credited him as a role model for the post 1994 era, creating the spirit of co-operation, forgiveness and the concept of the “rainbow man”.

‘Rainbow man’

Tutu was not only a political role player, he said, but also the moral compass which directed South African society and its values.

“He was a voice of reason, in very difficult circumstances, and now the rainbow man is gone and what is left of SA now is a country without a rainbow and a country without the rainbow man.

WATCH: ‘Spiritual brothers’ Tutu and Dalai Lama’s special friendship

“I am objective because I criticised him in his younger phases, I believed he was a bit overcritical on certain things, but looking back he was a really a builder and that makes him one of the exceptional people in the post 1994 dispensation,” Duvenhage said.

Sethulego Matebesi, sociology professor at the University of Free State, said if Tutu was a sell-out, then he had no idea what South Africa’s post-1994 leaders who see no problem with the billions of rands of unaccounted expenditure should be called.

Tutu a sell-out to thieves and the corrupt

“In fact, Tutu was a sell-out for those who are corrupt and only interested in advancing their narrow personal and political aspirations,” he charged.

Matebesi says South Africans live like prisoners today because of rampant crime, saying corruption and crime were the two issues confronting post-democratic South Africa that Tutu was fighting.

“Our glorious country would have been a better place with leaders of the calibre of Tutu at the helm, [not] those who call him a sell-out. May the beautiful legacy of Tutu live on,” he said.

Matebesi said Tutu would go down in history as a global icon who promoted peace and ethical governance.

He said Tutu singlehandedly fought both the apartheid and democratic governments when the SA Council of Churches had lost its appetite to advance the interests of civil society.

“His leadership of the TRC is testimony of his skills as a visionary leader. His legacy will remain a beacon of hope for many South African civil society organisations, individuals and leaders who want to see a corrupt-free and morally grounded government,” he added.

Madeleine Fullard, the head of National Prosecuting Authority’s Missing Persons Task Team, who worked side-by-side with Tutu as a TRC researcher, slammed latter-day “radicalistas” who are blank on Tutu’s historic role.

“It’s absurd to see the TRC (and Tutu) pilloried for government’s failure to adopt or implement the TRC recommendations – such as a wealth tax, amount of victim reparations and so on. As if the TRC could implement land redistribution! It only had powers of recommendation…” she wrote on Twitter.

siphom@citizen.co.za

Read more on these topics

Archbishop Desmond Tutu