By David Smith in Johannesburg
Retired archbishop Desmond Tutu has spoken of his pain at being snubbed by organisers of Nelson Mandela’s funeral last year as his relationship with South Africa’s dominant party continues to sour.
Tutu, who like Mandela won the Nobel peace prize as a leader of the struggle against racial apartheid, will be out in the cold again on Sunday when official events are held to mark the 20th anniversary of the country’s first multiracial election.
At a press conference at St George’s cathedral in Cape Town, Tutu reflected on his exclusion from the programme at Mandela’s funeral last December. At first he was not even on the 5,000-strong guest list but he received a last minute invitation following a public outcry.
“I was quite astounded myself but I tried to pretend that I was humbled and didn’t really mind,” the 82-year-old said. “It was not true, I was very hurt. He was a very dear friend.
“We made up for it a little bit. I was asked to preach at a wonderful memorial held at the Westminster Abbey. They have the right to say who would speak, but I think they shot themselves comprehensively in the foot in snubbing me. It was sad.”
The archbishop emeritus, who has been described as the moral conscience of South Africa, and the de facto leader of the liberation struggle while Mandela was in jail, has become a fierce critic of the African National Congress (ANC) under president Jacob Zuma. There is little sign of the rift being healed.
“I have already said that I will not vote for them; that is something that I have said,” he explained. “And I say it with a very sore, very heavy heart because on the whole they have tended to be close to the kind of things we dreamt about.”
Referring to Mandela’s generation, he added: “We have to admit that not too many of the successors of those leaders have been able to fill their shoes. But the shoes were enormous.”
While he never belonged to a political party, he continued, he had wanted to support one that would be as close as possible “to the sort of things that we would love to see. On the whole, the ANC was that. Have you noticed the tense?
“We dreamt about a society that would be compassionate, a society that really made people feel they mattered. You can’t do that in a society where you have people who go to bed hungry, where many of our children still attend classes under trees.”
Tutu, who coined the phrase “rainbow nation”, described 20 years of democracy in South Africa as “a heck of an achievement” and a “very good reason for all of us as South Africans to feel proud”.
He acknowledged that the ANC deserves at least some credit. “I am going to recognise, not concede, but recognise the wonderful achievements, the fact that many more people have running water, that there is electricity for very many more people than it used to be, the social grants and we have the largest HIV programme … those are significant feathers in the cap of our government.”
But he added: “This is a country where we shouldn’t read stories of a six-year-old falling into a latrine hole. It shouldn’t happen. It unconscionable, it’s a disgrace. This is a fantastic country with fantastic people. Let’s make it become what it has in itself to become.”
He also declined to condemn a controversial plea by a group of former ANC stalwarts, led by former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils, for voters to choose one of the smaller parties or spoil their ballots in protest against what they see as a betrayal of the ANC’s principles.
“Don’t just say, ah well, I’ve always sung these struggle songs and therefore when I’m going to vote … think!
“You can’t call into question the integrity of the people who have called for this; you can’t call into question their struggle credentials and they are saying don’t vote mindlessly, don’t be voting cattle. Think when you’re making that cross and remember that it is going to decide what quality of life you are going to have for the next five years.”
Story and picture courtesy of www.theguardian.com