South Africa’s ‘Arch’ Retires, Leaves Legacy of Human Rights Struggle for All

By Enjoli Francis

Jul 22, 2010 2:09pm

ABC's Dana Hughes reports from Nairobi:
Archbishop Desmond Tutu announced his retirement from public life today, which will begin after his 79th birthday in October. Aside from Nelson Mandela, Tutu is probably the most globally recognized figure from South Africa. While Mandela was serving 27 years of prison time for his anti-apartheid stance, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town was active in keeping Mandela’s name and the fight for freedom in the public sphere. He spoke up, loudly, against the injustices of apartheid both in South Africa and abroad. He won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, and used the global platform to call for sanctions against South Africa.  He became an active symbol for the anti-apartheid movement globally, particularly in the United States and in Europe. In 1985, he invited Sen. Ted Kennedy to visit South Africa, hosted him in his home in a black township and led him to a protest outside of Pollsmoor Prison, where Mandela was being held at the time. Despite constant harassment and punishment by the white South African government, Tutu refused to back down. When apartheid finally ended in 1994 it was Tutu who called South Africa a “rainbow nation” and who stressed that the country, black and white, needed to heal from the wounds of apartheid. For two years he headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, hearing horrible tales of torture, beatings and even murder – allowing the country a chance to purge itself of the hatred that had engulfed it for so long.

Tutu’s legacy does not end with apartheid, however. He continued his commitment to speak out against injustice – no matter who was responsible. In recent years he has criticized Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, a former freedom fighter, who Tutu says has mutated into a “Frankenstein” for his people. He has also been an outspoken critic of the corruption and continued poverty in South Africa, calling it “unjustifiable.” During the World Cup last month the 78-year-old was giddy, dancing on stage at the kick-off concert.
“Can you feel it?” he asked the exuberant crowd. “I’m dreaming. I’m dreaming. … It’s so beautiful.” But like Mandela, his commitment to the struggle took a toll on his personal life. In the statement announcing his retirement, Tutu said, "Instead of growing old gracefully, at home with my family reading and writing and praying and thinking too much of my time has been spent at airports and in hotels. " "The time has now come to slow down, to sip Rooibos tea with my beloved wife in the afternoons, to watch cricket, to travel to visit my children and grandchildren, rather than to conferences and conventions and university campuses," he said. The African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party, also issued a statement thanking the leader for his service to South Africa. Local media are paying tribute to the man affectionately known as “the Arch,” calling him a national treasure.  But for human rights activists around the world, the legacy of Archbishop Desmond Tutu isn’t just about his fight for equality in South Africa, but for the rights of all people, regardless of race, religion or class.

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