Bishop Desmond Tutu Has Bemoaned the State of South African Political Culture
Originally uploaded by panafnewswire.
26 September 2006
STEVE BANTU BIKO MEMORIAL LECTURE BY ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU
UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN
Thank you for the great honour you have bestowed on me by
inviting me to give this year's memorial lecture. Those who
tortured and beat Steve up in gaol and killed him so heartlessly,
you will recall that he was driven comatose from Port Elizabeth
naked in the back of a Land Rover all the way to Pretoria where he
was shackled to a grate and left to expire sitting, in his urine,
and left to die a death that Mr Jimmy Kruger said, "Left him cold."
Phew! They had hoped that would be the end, the inglorious,
shameful end of someone they considered a pretty handful. They
hoped he would be snuffed out like you blow out a candle.
Annihilated, and that would be that. They were doomed to fail.
It is amazing to think that Steve did not have much time to
propagate his teachings and in a way, by rights, should have
disappeared into oblivion.
This does happen, despite all appearances to the contrary, to be
in fact a moral universe.
Right, good, justice will ultimately prevail and in this universe
extraordinarily greatness is measured by how much the
person has served others, how much altruism they have shown and not by how much they have come to own materially, how much
self-aggrandisement has happened. He didn't have a flashy car or a
big house. He lived in a ghetto township. He did not even have a
university degree and by rights should have been consigned to the
oblivion reserved for all non-entities. But what is the reality? I
was privileged to preach at his mammoth funeral attended by
diplomats and people from all corners of South Africa. Leah and
several of her friends tried to come from Soweto and were assaulted
by the police and prevented from coming.
Perhaps it was just as well. King William's Town would have
found it difficult to host so many mourners. That was a funeral for
a national hero not a non-entity. There is a statue erected to his
honour in East London, unveiled by Madiba, there was the "Cry
Freedom" film and then this series of lectures at this great
university. These are not things you do for a nonentity.
And what about those who tortured and killed him and those
doctors who colluded with them? They have been consigned to the
scrap heap of history, mere flotsam and jetsam. Right and goodness
have triumphed even if we still do not have the whole, the true
story of how Steve died.
What is more we have here an eloquent example that true
greatness lies in having given oneself on behalf of others; Jesus
did say, "Greater love hath no one than that a person should lay
down his life for others." And the people have said a resounding
"Amen" to that and you really can't fool all of the people all the
time. They will always know who their leaders are and they will be
ready to acknowledge them and to the extent that they can, will
reward them, will express their appreciation to them. You cannot
buy that affirmation by the people. We know it - the apartheid
regime tried to foist its candidates on us as our leaders and the
people, i.e. the vast majority, rejected them as but pseudo
leaders. Once people have taken you to their hearts as a true, a
genuine, leader then nothing anyone tries to do can dislodge the
real leader from the hearts of the people.
Steve was a remarkable young man in his commitment and passion.
He was willing to abandon his medical studies when he was expelled from medical school, he was ready to jettison it all because of his all consuming passion to strive for the liberation of his people
and their emancipation through appropriate community development
and health enhancing projects.
He possessed an incisive and indeed massive intellect. Yes, a
charismatic individual who made a unique assessment of why black
people were always at the end of the queue, at the bottom of the
pile. It was a daringly novel diagnosis, that we were collaborators
in our own oppression and subjugation and so he provided the
genesis for the Black Consciousness Movement. It really went to the
heart of the matter. Language is not merely innocuous, merely
descriptive. No, it has the potency to create the reality that it
describes and being designated "non European", "non white" was not merely degrading, humiliating, horrendously it had the power of
making a child of God doubt that she was indeed a child of God.
That is the blasphemous aspect of oppression and injustice. It did
not take long after one had been called non this, non the other,
for one to take on the identity of a non-entity, to have this demon
of self hate, self doubt, of a negative self image gnawing away at
one's being. Now that sounds melodramatic, but let me tell you a
In 1972 I was Associate Director of the Theological Education
Fund (TEF) of the World Council of Churches based not in Geneva but in London. I had to travel extensively mainly in sub-Saharan
Africa. On my first visit to Nigeria I had to fly from Lagos to Jos
in the north. I boarded the plane and the entire crew was black.
Both the Captain and 1st Officer were Nigerian and my heart leapt.
I grew inches with pride at this realisation that they contradicted
all that apartheid South Africa asserted about blacks. We took off
smoothly but some time later hit turbulence. Wow! It was scary. You
know one time you are up there and then bump, the aeroplane
descends and you leave your stomach on the ceiling. To this day I
am shocked at what happened next. I really did not know the power
of conditioning. I got quite scared because I said, "Hey, there's
no white man in the cockpit. Will these blacks be able to land us
safely?" Can you believe it?
Black Consciousness Movement
That is what Steve diagnosed in us as our illness and black
consciousness was meant to exorcise this demon, to make us realise that as he said, we were human and not inferior as the white person was human and not superior.
I internalised what others had decided was to be my identity,
not my God-given utterly precious and unique me.
And when I looked inside me and saw this man-made caricature I
bridled with anger and hatred and contempt of this false self. I
then projected it outwards to those who outwardly looked like me.
Before my superior white overlords I quaked with demeaning
obsequiousness and before those who looked like the thing I hated
and despised I was harsh and abraisive.
We used to laugh as we heard the story of the man who answered
the telephone and when he heard his white boss' voice, would
hurriedly pull off his cap.
And yet this same person would be harsh as he excoriated his
You know how the black mine clerks treated the black mine
workers, screaming at them to the delight of their white bosses.
You recall the brutality of black constables to their own in order
to curry favour with their white superiors. Or how someone perhaps
to whom you had given a tip would say thinking they were praising
you, "h, you're my white boss, ungu umlungu wam, o lekhoa laka" or
how black domestic workers would declare proudly that they did not
work for black employers =AD this even if they would be paid more.
Frequently of course they were right because there were no greater
exploiters of blacks than their fellow blacks. Or you would see how
abominably badly we often drive in black townships because
fundamentally we do not respect one another. We used to do things
we would never dream of doing in town, like stopping at an awkward
point at a street corner - oh, and our taxi drivers, they have
usually taken the cake.
Well, why do I use the past tense? The fact of the matter is
that we still depressingly do not respect one another. I have often
said Black Consciousness did not finish the work it set out to do.
Why have we lost our deeply African reverence for life? Just
look at what happens with say a car hijack. The scared owner hands
over the keys and for no earthly reason he/she will be shot dead in
cold blood for the sheer hell of it; utterly gratuitously, wantonly.
Is it not horrendous to an African, even before Black
Consciousness came on the scene, for what ever reason for an adult
man to rape a 9 month old baby? What has come over us? Perhaps we did not realise just how apartheid has damaged us so that we seem to have lost our sense of right and wrong, so that when we go on strike as is our right to do, we are not appalled that some of us
can chuck people out of moving trains because they did not join the
strike, or why is it common practice now to trash, to go on the
rampage? Striking municipal workers empty trash on the streets,
other strikers break shop windows, loot and trash the premises?
Even our students on strike will often destroy the very facilities
they need for their studies. What has happened to us? It seems as
if we have perverted our freedom, our rights into licence, into
being irresponsible. Rights go hand in hand with responsibility,
with dignity, with respect for oneself and for the other.
Can you tell me why we think it is okay to litter? Many of us
will chuck a banana/orange peel, a paper wrapping on the ground
next to a dustbin. Why? Why are we so unmindful of our environment . Of course many of us still live in poverty and squalor. But you know how, although we were poor long ago, we used to be proud of our surroundings, sweeping even the street.
There are many neighbourhoods that make you proud, where people
have cultivated lawns and planted gardens and it is all so
beautiful and people who don't care are the first to want to sit
on those lawns and they will often litter and leave their trash
behind. We must tell those who do this that littering is a crime
but it is also a sin. We despoil God's creation of which we are
supposed to be stewards, caring for it on behalf of God.
There should be things we consider infra dig, below our dignity
Most, no all of us here, would not even consider picking up an
apple that we were eating if it fell into a dustbin. It should be
so with all the bad things we are tolerating, people urinating in
public places, etc. There are shops and offices which it is a
pleasure to enter. The shop assistants are courteous, friendly,
smiling and eager to help as also certain offices - but there are
others where they think they are doing you a favour. There are
municipal, provincial, government offices which you go to only
because you really can't help it. They behave as those others used
to behave in the old pass offices - they are rude, inefficient and
Why, oh why, when it is as easy to be efficient, friendly and
courteous? It is because we don't respect one another and, we don't
because we don't respect ourselves first. We despise ourselves, we
really hate ourselves and project it on to others.
During our struggle against apartheid we refused to obey unjust
laws because rightly we wanted to make South Africa ungovernable.
We have achieved our goal. We are free. South Africa is a
democracy. We have an obligation to obey the laws made by our own
legislators. We should be dignified, law abiding citizens, proud of
our beautiful land, proud of our freedom won at such great cost. We
should not devalue it. We should not abuse our children, our
We are generous, compassionate, caring people at our best. We
give the highest praise when we say, "Yu, unobuntu, ona lebotho",
this is someone who cares about others, who is generous and
hospitable, who respects others, as she hopes and expects they will
Hey, we have a wonderful country. We have produced outstanding
people. The best memorial to Steve Biko would be a South Africa
where everyone respects themselves, has a positive self image
filled with a proper self esteem and holds others in high regard.
Hey, we are wonderful people. We have given the world a splendid
example in our relatively peaceful transition showing that former
enemies can at least be colleagues. We have shown Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Rwanda, Burma, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo that you can have had a violent past and a peaceful present and future. We have given the world the most admired statesman in Madiba, we have produced a Steve Biko too -the world has marvelled at our capacity to forgive, to walk the path of forgiveness and reconciliation, to be magnanimous and generous.
We must take seriously the cry of those who say in the past we
were not white enough, today we are not black enough, even if they
are wrong. We must take seriously their perception to try to change
it. We must beware the dangers of ethnic strife. See what it has
done in Rwanda, Burundi, Bosnia, Kenya, DRC. So let us hear the cry
of those who complain about a Nguni-ocracy and even of a
Xhosa-ocracy. Many a truth is uttered in jest.
Let us oppose xenophobia, we who were welcomed by countries that
were ready to run the gauntlet of the wrath of the South African
Defence Force and let us be magnanimous in victory, let us act
sensitively in the matter of name changing and not appear to gloat
and to ride roughshod over the feelings of others. Let us build up
a groundswell of consensus to support any name change and not leave many filled with impotent resentment. Let us try to use name
changes as opportunities for nation building.
For you know what, we are indeed a scintillating success waiting
ISSUED ON BEHALF OF THE OFFICE OF ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU BY ORYX MEDIA PRODUCTIONS.