Wednesday 23 October 2019

Don Mullen: Zuma's petty bid to humiliate Tutu flies in the face of all Madiba stood for

Archbishop Desmond Tutu greets former President Mary Robinson.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu greets former President Mary Robinson.

Don Mullen

The heavens wept from start to finish but for a short lull around 3.30pm. It was not the conditions President Jacob Zuma might have hoped for with the greatest ever gathering of the world's who's who in town to pay their final respects to Madiba. Satellite stadia had been primed for the expected overflow crowd, but the torrential rain and the fact that no national holiday had been called resulted in a half full FNB Stadium.

And then, when the cameras focused on the South African president and projected his image on to two giant screens -- the boos were embarrassing and surely for His Excellency Jacob Zuma, mortifying.

There was one noticeable absence from the official programme, and it was so glaring a blind person would have spotted it a mile away.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 South African Nobel Laureate, had been airbrushed away. He was there alright, invited as part of the Elders delegation, along with our own former President Mary Robinson, but not there in his own right.

Whispers were circulating around the stadium and among foreign journalists. The question on everyone's mind was: "Where's Tutu?"

I looked at the sky and wondered, 'Are these the tears of Mandela?' Tears of shame and sadness that one of his successors could get it so wrong. A successor who was not big enough to put Madiba first and, even if for just one day, bury the hatchet and respect what surely would have been the wishes of the iconic reconciler whose political legacy he is charged with progressing.

And why would Madiba have wished for the aging Desmond Tutu to be treated with courtesy and dignity at his funeral, even if in recent years he has been openly critical of internal corruption and political abuse by members of the ANC and Zuma's government?

* Because Tutu carried the flame of freedom while Mandela and other political leaders where in prison, in exile or, like the great Steve Biko, consigned to early graves.

* It was with Tutu that Mandela spent his first night of freedom, following his release from prison on 11 February 1990.

* It was Tutu Mandela chose to lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

* Tutu also played a major role in steering South Africa away from an expected bloodbath.

* Tutu became a close friend and confidante of Madiba.

* It was Tutu that Nelson Mandela and Graca Michel asked to officiate at their wedding in 1998.

* Tutu, with Mandela, is a Nobel Laureate.

* With Madiba's passing, the mantel of 'Father of the Nation', naturally moves to Desmond Tutu.

There is no explanation for Tutu's exclusion other than Zuma and some of his hardline cohorts were determined to teach the old man a lesson with a public humiliation for daring to be the moral compass of the nation.

It is unconscionable that they would dare to use Madiba's funeral as their moment of retaliation because he threatened to pray for their downfall when, in 2011, they failed to issue the Dalai Lama with a visa to attend his 80th birthday. On that occasion, Tutu called a press conference in Cape Town and fearlessly told the South African president: "You, president Zuma and your government, do not represent me. Our government . . . says it will not support Tibetans being viciously oppressed by China . . . I am warning you, as I warned the (pro-apartheid) nationalists, one day we will pray for the defeat of the ANC government."

The whispers and the questions that were beginning to reverberate around the stadium were clearly heard by Zuma's advisers. At 3.30pm the rain eased and for a few minutes stopped. At that moment I spotted the purple robes of the Archbishop being lead across the grass towards the main canopy. Zuma's petty politics on such a sacred day had backfired and Madiba's tears momentarily ceased.

A short time before, word reached Tutu in the stands, where he was seated with foreign dignitaries, that he had been invited to give a final blessing. And despite the fact there was little more than 10,000 remaining in the stadium, his presence electrified the crowd whose faces lit up and greeted his appearance with warm applause and cheers.

Despite Zuma's pettiness, Tutu literally -- literally -- got the last word.

Afterwards, I overheard one gentleman approach Tutu and say: "Thank you father, you saved the day."

Poor, poor, Madiba.


Irish Independent

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