Q&A

A man whom whites love to hate

October 5 1981
Q&A

A man whom whites love to hate

October 5 1981

A man whom whites love to hate

Q&A

BISHOP DESMOND TUTU

“It is almost axiomatic in South Africa that what pleases most blacks will automatically displease most whites and vice versa. ”Desmond Tutu did not have himself in mind when he made that observation, but it is most apt for the black Anglican bishop. For South Africa ’s white minority government the 50-year-old cleric hovers on the verge of subversion and is a man, he once said, “whites love to hate. ” But for most blacks, he is an irrepressible and admired voice of dissent against apartheid. In 1977 Tutu was appointed the first black general-secretary of the South African Council of Churches, a body representing some 15 million Christians, at least 80 per cent of them black. Under his tutelage the council has become one of the most vocal critics of the government, earning its wrath in return. Last year Prime Minister Pieter Botha accused the council of distributing $3 million “with only one purpose— that is to promote unrest. ” Police Minister Louis le Grange charged it with “leftish propaganda action”in which he included: condemning security legislation, financing political trials, helping families of political detainees, rejecting the segregated school system, describing the government as repressive and giving whites “a guilty conscience. ”

Tutu is a gregarious man with a resonant, nasal voice that seesaws between a soothing adagio and a clipped staccato. His round face, framed by a fringe of greying hair, has a jutting jaw and eyeglasses perch ed on a fiat nose. A darting, impish wit often reveals how well he knows the psyche of his fellow white countrymen. If the Archbishop of Capetown were taken in for questioning

by the security police, Tutu observes, some Christians would say, “There always was something funny about him. ” His activities over the years have cost him his passport several times, and many observers believe it was only his extensive overseas network of ecclesiastical ties that prevented the government from banning him, a restriction that limits a person’s contacts to his family and so neutralizes his political influence. Maclean’s South Africa correspondent Caryle Murphy talked to Tutu in his Johannesburg ojfice.

Maclean’s: Why do you think your passport was taken away?

Tutu: (laughter) The government says I abused a privilege. In South Africa they claim having a passport is a privilege and not a right as in other countries that are democratic. They didn’t seem to have liked what I said (which is) basically, ‘International community, if you want to see fundamental change in South Africa by peaceful means, you must give assistance by applying pressure on the South African government, political, diplomatic, but above all, economic.’

Maclean’s: What kind of economic

pressure?

Tutu: I’m not going to be more specific. Intelligent people know what sort of pressure they need to exert to persuade the South Africans to go to the conference table. Pressure can be like, ‘Unless you do so-and-so, we are not putting any more money into South Africa’—that is the kind of pressure I’m referring to. Maclean’s: What chance is there of nonviolent change in South Africa?

Tutu: I always say there is still the outside chance. Of course, we’ve got to be careful when we speak about nonviolent change because that tends to make people think that the South African situation is not already violent, and it is important for people to know that apartheid in essence is a violent system. We’ve got legalized structural violence, the violence of an inferior educational system for blacks, the migratory labor system, cheap labor. But if the international community assisted us there is the outside chance of reasonably peaceful change.

Maclean’s: Do you imply that Western

governments are not helping at the moment?

Tutu: Not to the extent of being able to get South Africa to the conference table. If anything I would say the Reagan administration, with its so-called policy of “constructive engagement,” is turning out to be an unmitigated disaster. We have already seen what happened. As soon as the South African government saw there would be a new incumbent in the White House they immediately scuppered the Geneva talks on Namibia when everybody thought this time a trick was going to be turned. The South Africans have become more intransigent as a result of what appears to be a more favorable stance toward them.

Maclean’s: Do you see the Canadian government usually following the lead of Washington in its policy toward South Africa, or do you see a difference between them?

Tutu: I think that under Pierre Trudeau the stance has been much more independent of Washington and much more of the sort of thing we would like to see in many Western capitals.

Maclean’s: Do blacks see the Soviet Union as a more valuable ally than Western governments?

Tutu: Not valuable in the sense they would want to espouse communism. I think people always make that kind of mistake. But they are prepared to get help, just as the Allies in the Second World War never said, “Are we or are we not going to ask Stalin for help against the Nazis?” Our people, I think it is almost axiomatic, execrate communism because it cannot satisfy the deep

longings of the black psyche. But they will certainly say anybody who is prepared to be an enemy of apartheid must be our friend. Anyone who is an enemy of our enemy is our friend. Socialist countries have tended to put their money where their mouths are. Maclean’s: The government says it is changing. Why do you dispute that? Tutu: Well, I would just give you one instance. Would you say the people in Nyanga, in Langa, where they have been evicted from single (hostel) quarters and made to live in the open in one of the bitterest winters, would you say

change was happening? We were inveigled by a lot of rhetoric from Mr. Botha. Clearly now he has taken an option and the option is that they are going to be more reactionary, more conservative. I mean look at (black affairs minister Pieter) Koornhof. When he can say that a priority of the cabinet is looking at the question of blacks crowding out whites. So that they are going to have more separate facilities if necessary. Being said by the man who two years ago declaimed in America that apartheid is dead.

Maclean’s: What do most blacks want?

Tutu: All they want is simply to be treated as what they are—human beings. And that means accepting the full consequences arising from the meaning of being human. Part of being human means you are a citizen in the land of your birth, you participate in political decision-making. Political decisionmaking is the most important thing, political power-sharing. Now if it is not going to come through dialogue and negotiations, it is going to come when people say we are no longer interested in sharing, we are grabbing everything. Maclean’s: But a consequence of political power-sharing means blacks will hold the power because they are in the majority. Whites are afraid of this. Why do you expect them to give up power? If you were white, would you give up power? A

Tutu: I would look at the options. I khow it’s very difficult to want to give up privilege. They keep talking about wanting changes as long as things remain the same, which means they want to retain their privileges. If I hold on as I am doing, the chances are I am going to lose everything. It would be far better to share whilst I’m able to control the way things are going and, yes, I will have a decline in my standard of living, but it is a very high standard in any case and I would be able to retain quite a few things. The point is, you see, blacks do not want—certainly not at this moment—they do not want to drive the whites into the sea. They keep saying, “Man, we want a nonracial society.”

Maclean’s: You are a churchman; why are you in politics?

Tutu: I’m not in politics. I remain in the church firmly. Quite plainly, it is because Jesus Christ says it matters whether a person is hungry or not hungry. It matters whether a person is clothed or naked, and He has said that you are going to be judged as to whether you are a bad Christian or a good Christian, whether you go to heaven or to the warmer place, by whether you did fairly secular kind of things, you fed or did not feed hungry people, you visited or didn’t visit prisoners.

Maclean’s: Do you consider yourself a moderate?

Tutu: I don’t buy these labels “radical,” “moderate.” I just read the gospel as I understand it, and I would say the gospel of Jesus Christ is always radical in the original sense that it goes to the root of the matter.

Maclean’s: What do you say to young people who say the only way we are going to have change is through violence?

Tutu: I say, maybe you are right if these people are unpersuadable, you are right that this is the direction we may have to go. But I’m saying you probably have

not exhausted every possible, viable means for bringing about change peacefully.

Maclean’s: How do you see South Africa 10 years from now?

Tutu: South Africa is going to be a nonracial state. There will be a bill of rights which secures individual rights protected by an independent judiciary. There will be a black prime minister. But in many ways color distinctions will be irrelevancies. We will have a very nonracial state.

Maclean’s: How will all this come about?

Tutu: Ah, it’s going to come about I think now more through the activity of the unions. I think they are very much in the frontier now. And it’s interesting isn’t it that American multinationals are appearing to be hedging their bets already and have met with (African National Congress of South Africa acting president Oliver) Tambo. I don’t think they do that kind of thing just out of love. If they could help it they would not want to touch that kind of person, or the kind of person they imagine him to be, with a barge pole.