Cape Town’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a constant irritant to South Africa’s secular authorities in his agitation against their policies of racial segregation. Because of his position as the leader of the Anglican Church in South Africa and his world prominence—he was awarded the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize—Tutu. 57, is one of the few high-profile blacks whom the South African authorities have never dared to detain or silence. As such, although he holds no office in any political organization, Tutu is widely considered to be the unofficial voice of South Africa’s silent black majority. Recently, he spoke to Maclean’s Senior Foreign Affairs Writer John Bierman at his residence in Cape Town-.
Maclean’s: Are you at all impressed by the statement ofFrederik de Klerk [leader of South Africa’s governing National Party] that white domination must end?
Tutu: Only the most gullible can continue to believe the statements this government makes that sound so grand. Nine years ago, [Foreign Minister Roelof] Pik Botha said at the UN that we are moving away from discrimination based on race, and here we are still moving away from it under a constitution that excludes 73 per cent of the population. What is that if it is not domination?
Maclean’s: But some of the bulwarks of apartheid have fallen—the Pass Laws, the Immorality Act. Is that not progress?
Tutu: You can say it is progress if you are looking for peripheral things. You mention bulwarks, but in fact the bulwark of apartheid is the Race Classification Act. Why, if you are moving away from discrimination based on race, should you have a law that says people are to be classified according to their race? And why have the Group Areas Act and the Separate Amenities Act [laws enforcing segregated living areas and services]? Why do you have education on a discriminatory basis as they still have it?
Maclean’s: But there are indications that those acts might be repealed. If so, would that not be a major advance?
Tutu: They are taking a very strange way toward the repeal of the Group Areas Act. They had intended putting out a version of the act with far more severe penalties than at present and only abandoned it because there were very strong protests. Now, how can you say we are moving away from Group Areas? I think you are too trusting of them. I have been part of the community that has been the victim of these people and I have been willing to believe them. I have been attacked by many in
our community for wanting to speak with the government. I said to President [Pieter] Botha once that he could conceivably be the one white man that black people would be willing to put up a statue to, because he could actually get rid of apartheid.
Maclean’s: Given right-wing opposition, doesn’t the government have to move slowly if it is to abandon apartheid?
Tutu: But you can’t get rid of apartheid stealthily and work away at it bit by bit, because what happens is that you raise the
hackles of your right wing, and then that scares the hell out of you, and that is what has happened. In the meantime, the blacks on the other side aren’t waiting for apartheid to be made less horrendous; they want apartheid removed. And in the final analysis, the question at the heart of our issue is political power. At the moment, [the whites] are able to do whatever they like because they know that they are not accountable to us.
Maclean’s: Isn’t South Africa’s agreement to get out of Namibia and allow it to become independent a sign of progress?
Tutu: I don’t think they would be moving out if their economy was strong. But it has been weakened [by sanctions], and they no longer feel able to cock a snook at the world. They are making a virtue of necessity. Still, never mind why they are getting out. With Namibia independent, the only item remaining for the liberation of all southern Africa will be the Republic of South Africa itself. And victory in Namibia is going to egg on opponents
of apartheid to intensify their efforts. Maclean’s: Is that a reason for optimism? Tutu: It could, of course, have the opposite effect on the world, especially the West. The West might say, “Look here, these guys have done something; let us acknowledge that, let’s not be too tough on them.” And we may get a great deal of resistance to further intensification of [anti-apartheid] pressure. But, on the whole, I think the consequences of Namibian independence could be very positive. And if Namibia goes the way of Zimbabwe, showing
that it is an experiment that is working, then that will be all to the good.
Maclean’s: Despite your skepticism about the government’s intentions, isn’t it possible that the reform process will generate inexorable forces that will push the Nationalists into surrendering white domination?
Tutu: There is something of that, to some extent. I mean, you start a process and you gain momentum. But look at the things they have done to stop momentum—the state of emergency we have had since 1986, the number of people that have been killed since 1984. The casualties are people, man. I tend to be more trusting of people than most, to believe that everyone is potentially an angel until the contrary is proven. But when you think that even children have been put into detention, sent into exile, killed, that many of our people have been in detention now for three years without charge; when you think of how they trample on our dignity, no, those inexorable forces you are talking about seem too puny. □
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