Much of this material dates from an excruciating time in South Africa, after the white racist apartheid regime accepted in 1990 that it would have to come to terms with the Black majority, but before the landmark non-racial election in 1994 that brought the African National Congress (ANC) and Nelson Mandela to power. During that time, right wing white groups did all they could to encourage violence between various Black groups, instigating terrible massacres in Black townships, especially in Natal Province. Witnesses often reported that police from the white government had a role in the clashes.
Tutu had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his courageous, non-violent struggle against apartheid; later under the ANC government, he would head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that tried to find ways for South Africa's people to go forward together, leaving the violence of apartheid behind. But in the interlude, Tutu strove courageously to comfort and restrain the victims of the inter-communal violence. Something of the anguish of that time comes across in this sermon from 1992, in the wake of an atrocity in which "200 or 300 men armed with axes, knives, spears and automatic weapons moved through an informal settlement at Boipatong, ... south of Johannesburg, slaughtering forty-six people. ... Boipatong residents alleged that some policemen had acted in collusion with the attackers. ..." Tutu preached:
A combination of realism, of unvarnished recognition of how we accustom ourselves to the unbearable, coupled with an inclusive demand for simple justice, carried Tutu through those awful times. I recognize the anesthetizing going on in me as I contemplate what my government is doing to people across the world. Baghdad is showing progress; only ten tortured corpses today ... I strive for something like Tutu's confidence that yes, one day, we'll make this rich, beautiful country a force for justice for our own people and the peoples of the world. The Archbishop has always projected that hope; can we, the comfortable, settle for any less?
Coincidentally, the good Archbishop is in the current news. The University of St. Thomas in Minnesota invited him to be part of a program it had hosted for several years that brought Nobel laureates to campus to speak with young people; then it got cold feet and disinvited him. According to the local paper City Pages:
Tutu's offending speech is here. After seeing Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands and communities, Tutu saw injustice -- and many similarities to the apartheid system. This, apparently, is the offending paragraph from his speech:
Again -- Tutu spoke unvarnished truths that many cannot bear to hear and concurrently held up the hope that injustice will not triumph forever. For this, he is again condemned by some who do not recognize their common humanity with people who are repressed and exploited.
A few comments:
- The phrase "the Jewish lobby" raises hackles and is inaccurate. But if a state proclaims its reason for being is to provide a homeland for Jewish people, it is not surprising that most folks tend to assume its advocates are Jewish. It takes a more subtle understanding of U.S. right wing lunacy to appreciate that much of the Israel Lobby consists of non-Jewish racist imperialists who want to use Israel as "our cop on the ground" against "the Islamics" and of Christian fundamentalists who believe Israel fulfills prophecies of their own triumphal future. Many U.S. Jews are appalled by the behavior of the state of Israel -- and very conflicted about the position its allies place them in.
- Though probably little known outside its locality, the University of St. Thomas is a respected academic institution that should know better than to dump Tutu. It is the largest private college or university in Minnesota. Many regional leaders are among its graduates including Mike Ciresi who is running in the Democratic primary to take on Republican Senator Norm Coleman in 2008.
- The organization Jewish Voice for Peace has collected the relevant links about the Tutu disinvitation at its blog, Muzzlewatch. They've set up an easy email page through with to send letters of protest to the University.