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    Archbishop Desmond Tutu

July 8, 2015

Desmond Tutu: ‘I am sorry’ – the three hardest words to say

Archbishop Desmond Tutu … 'My father has long since died, but if I could speak to him today, I would want to tell him that I had forgiven him.' Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

There were so many nights when I, as a young boy, had to watch helplessly as my father verbally and physically abused my mother. I can still recall the smell of alcohol, see the fear in my mother’s eyes and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways. I would not wish that experience on anyone, especially not a child.

If I dwell on those memories, I can feel myself wanting to hurt my father back, in the same ways he hurt my mother, and in ways of which I was incapable as a small boy. I see my mother’s face and I see this gentle human being whom I loved so very much and who did nothing to deserve the pain inflicted on her.

When I recall this story, I realise how difficult the process of forgiving truly is. Intellectually, I know my father caused pain because he himself was in pain. Spiritually, I know my faith tells me my father deserves to be forgiven as God forgives us all. But it is still difficult. The traumas we have witnessed or experienced live on in our memories. Even years later they can cause us fresh pain each time we recall them.

If I traded lives with my father, if I had experienced the stresses and pressures my father faced, if I had to bear the burdens he bore, would I have behaved as he did? I do not know. I hope I would have been different, but I do not know.

My father has long since died, but if I could speak to him today, I would want to tell him that I had forgiven him. What would I say to him? I would begin by thanking him for all the wonderful things he did for me as my father, but then I would tell him that there was this one thing that hurt me very much. I would tell him how what he did to my mother affected me, how it pained me.

Perhaps he would hear me out; perhaps he would not. But still I would forgive him.

Why would I do such a thing? I know it is the only way to heal the pain in my boyhood heart. Forgiveness is not dependent on the actions of others. Yes, it is certainly easier to offer forgiveness when the perpetrator expresses remorse and offers some sort of reparation or restitution. Then, you can feel as if you have been paid back in some way. You can say: “I am willing to forgive you for stealing my pen, and after you give me my pen back, I shall forgive you.” This is the most familiar pattern of forgiveness. We don’t forgive to help the other person. We don’t forgive for others. We forgive for ourselves. Forgiveness, in other words, is the best form of self-interest.

Forgiveness takes practice, honesty, open-mindedness and a willingness (even if it is a weary willingness) to try. It isn’t easy. Perhaps you have already tried to forgive someone and just couldn’t do it. Perhaps you have forgiven and the person did not show remorse or change his or her behaviour or own up to his or her offences – and you find yourself unforgiving all over again. It is perfectly normal to want to hurt back when you have been hurt. But hurting back rarely satisfies. We think it will, but it doesn’t. If I slap you after you slap me, it does not lessen the sting I feel on my own face, nor does it diminish my sadness over the fact that you have struck me. Retaliation gives, at best, only momentary respite from our pain. The only way to experience healing and peace is to forgive. Until we can forgive, we remain locked in our pain and locked out of the possibility of experiencing healing and freedom, locked out of the possibility of being at peace.

Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah, and their children, from left: Trevor Thamsanqa, Thandeka Theresa, Nontombi Naomi and Mpho Andrea, England, c1964. (c) Mpilo Foundation Archives, courtesy Tutu family (c) Mpilo Foundation Archives, courtesy Tutu family./ot

As a father myself, raising children has sometimes felt like training for a forgiveness marathon. Like other parents, my wife, Leah, and I could create a whole catalogue of the failures and irritations our children have served up. As infants, their loud squalls disturbed our slumber. Even as one or the other of us stumbled out of bed, the irritation at being woken and the thoughts of the fatigue that would lie like a pall over the coming day gave way to the simple acknowledgment that this was a baby. This is what babies do. The loving parent slides easily into the place of acceptance, even gratitude, for the helpless bundle of tears. Toddler tantrums might provoke an answering anger in a mother or father, but it will be quickly replaced by the understanding that a little person does not yet have the language to express the flood of feelings contained in his or her body. Acceptance comes.

As our own children grew, they found new (and remarkably creative) ways of testing our patience, our resolve and our rules and limits. We learned time and again to turn their transgressions into teaching moments. But mostly we learned to forgive them over and over again, and fold them back into our embrace. We know our children are so much more than the sum of everything they have done wrong. Their stories are more than rehearsals of their repeated need for forgiveness. We know that even the things they did wrong were opportunities for us to teach them to be citizens of the world. We have been able to forgive them because we have known their humanity. We have seen the good in them.

Desmond Tutu with Nelson Mandela in South Africa, 1998. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images Walter Dhladhla/AFP/Getty Images

In the 1960s, South Africa was in the fierce grip of apartheid. When the Bantu Education system of inferior education for black children was instituted by the government, Leah and I left the teaching profession in protest. We vowed we would do all in our power to ensure our children were never subjected to the brain-washing that passed for education in South Africa. Instead, we enrolled our children in schools in neighbouring Swaziland. Six times each year we made the 3,000-mile drive from Alice in the Eastern Cape to my parents’ home in Krugersdorp. After spending the night with them, we would drive five hours to Swaziland, drop off or pick up the children at their schools and drive back to Krugersdorp to rest before the long drive home. There were no hotels or inns that would accommodate black guests at any price.

During one of those trips, my father said he wanted to talk. I was exhausted. We were halfway home and had driven 10 hours to drop the children at school. Sleep beckoned. We still had another 15-hour drive back to our home in Alice. Driving through the Karoo – that vast expanse of semi-desert in the middle of South Africa – was always trying. I told my father I was tired and had a headache. “We’ll talk tomorrow, in the morning,” I said. We headed to Leah’s mother’s home half an hour away. The next morning, my niece came to wake us with the news: my father was dead.

I was grief-stricken. I loved my father very much and while his temper pained me greatly, there was so much about him that was loving, wise and witty. And then there was the guilt. With his sudden death I would never be able to hear what he had wanted to say. Was there some great stone on his heart that he had wanted to remove? Might he have wanted to apologise for the abuse he had inflicted on my mother when I was a boy? I will never know. It has taken me many, many years to forgive myself for my insensitivity, for not honouring my father one last time with the few moments he wanted to share with me. Honestly, the guilt still stings.

When I reflect back across the years to his drunken tirades, I realise now that it was not just with him that I was angry. I was angry with myself. Cowering in fear as a boy, I had not been able to stand up to my father or protect my mother. So many years later, I realise that I not only have to forgive my father, I have to forgive myself.

A human life is a great mixture of goodness, beauty, cruelty, heartbreak, indifference, love and so much more. All of us share the core qualities of our human nature and so sometimes we are generous and sometimes selfish. Sometimes we are thoughtful and other times thoughtless; sometimes we are kind and sometimes cruel. This is not a belief. This is a fact.

No one is born a liar or a rapist or a terrorist. No one is born full of hatred. No one is born full of violence. No one is born in any less glory or goodness than you or me. But on any given day, in any given situation, in any painful life experience, this glory and goodness can be forgotten, obscured or lost. We can easily be hurt and broken, and it is good to remember that we can just as easily be the ones who have done the hurting and the breaking.

The simple truth is, we all make mistakes, and we all need forgiveness. There is no magic wand we can wave to go back in time and change what has happened or undo the harm that has been done, but we can do everything in our power to set right what has been made wrong. We can endeavour to make sure the harm never happens again.

There are times when all of us have been thoughtless, selfish or cruel. But no act is unforgivable; no person is beyond redemption. Yet, it is not easy to admit one’s wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. “I am sorry” are perhaps the three hardest words to say. We can come up with all manner of justifications to excuse what we have done. When we are willing to let down our defences and look honestly at our actions, we find there is a great freedom in asking for forgiveness and great strength in admitting the wrong. It is how we free ourselves from our past errors. It is how we are able to move forward into our future, unfettered by the mistakes we have made.

This article originally appeared in the March 22, 2014 issue of the Guardian

June 23, 2015

Tutu endorses United Church of Christ divestment

The United Church of Christ will hold its general synod in Cleveland June 26-30 and consider a divestment resolution targeting the Israeli occupation. Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu has issued a statement supporting the resolution.

My dear sisters and brothers in the United Church of Christ,

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, through whom we share work and witness on behalf of God’s love and God’s justice.

I write to endorse, “A Call for the United Church of Christ to Take Actions Toward a Just Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”, Resolution #4, which will be put to the vote at your 30th General Synod later this month in Cleveland, Ohio.

We grieve over Israel’s decades long oppression of Palestine and Palestinians: The illegal occupation; the expanding West Bank settlements; the separation wall; the siege of Gaza; the manipulation of water rights; the network of checkpoints and settler bypass roads; the detention of people without charges; the travel restrictions, identity cards, and disruption of every aspect of daily life for Palestinians.

We condemn the brutality of Israel’s policies. But we do not condemn Judaism or Jews.

As South African, we recognize institutionalized racism when we see it. We have experienced the corrosive effects of segregation – and have witnessed the healing power and joy of reconciliation.

It is unconscionable to remain silent, or neutral, in the face of injustice. Neutrality maintains the status quo and compounds the injustice.

The depth of my commitment to justice in the Holy Land has cost me friends and elicited vehement criticism. It is the cost of discipleship that requires us to name evil and clearly oppose it. Calling me anti-Semitic will not stop me from speaking out for justice.

We do not seek to demonize the architects of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, but to implore those with the political power to change their policies and their ways. Injustice brutalizes the humanity of the oppressors as well as that of the oppressed. Freedom for Palestinians will liberate Israelis, too.

We are sisters and brothers of one family, the human family, God’s family. We are made for each other, for inter-dependence, for goodness and for love. When we recognize each other for what we truly are, we make the impossible possible.

Thank you for recognizing our common humanity, for taking a stand for justice. Your resolution places you on the side of justice and human rights for all.

I endorse fully your resolution’s proposal to use the powerful non-violent tools of economic leverage. These tools helped us to engineer a new day for my own country, South Africa. With you, we proved that economic pressure can force the most powerful to the table. I am grateful that your denomination stood with us then, voting to join the South African divestment movement, and that you are prepared once again to take this stand for justice.

I applaud your decision to be guided by the faithful voice of the Christian community of Palestine, and to encourage widespread study of Kairos Palestine – a Moment of Truth (2009). It was just such a document which, in 1985, allowed the world to hear our voice and learn the depth of our oppression in South Africa. May we all heed the Kairos Palestine call, as people of faith, to engage in “resistance with love as its logic”.

I affirm your resolution’s condemnation of all violence and your uncompromising commitment to the path of non-violence and inter-religious dialogue. And I commend the resolution’s call for accountability from your own, United States, government over its annual $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel.

As US citizens you have the responsibility to speak truth to the power of your own government. As Christians you have the duty to side with the oppressed and by so doing to liberate the oppressor.

I endorse your resolution, and fervently pray for the day when Palestinians and Israelis will be reconciled and live together in dignity, security, and peace, with equal rights for all. When that day comes our collective hallelujahs will resound across the world we share.

God bless you.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu Cape Town, South Africa

Source: Mondoweiss.net

June 22, 2015

Desmond & Mpho Tutu on Forgiveness, Family and Inner Peace

Desmond and Mpho Tutu reflect on the power of apologies, the need for material reparations, and the importance of forgiveness in dictating the world’s future. They also speak about truth and reconciliation within their own family, and how they are able to maintain their own inner peace.

Source: Yes! Magazine

June 15, 2015

Desmond Tutu & Bettina Gronblom: Migration – Choosing Freedom Over Xenophobia

In September 2012 we wrote together warning about the rise of xenophobia, intolerance and political scaremongering (the blog can be read here “God is not a Christian”. The situation has become worse. South Africa’s long walk to freedom is now threatened by xenophobic violence. Our universal human rights are being eroded in Europe on the basis of scaremongering and “national security”. Desperate migrants are drowning in the Mediterranean and mass migrant graves have been found in Asia. Xenophobia and migration are now urgent worldwide issues.

What do we do about migration? How do we move from a world of “terror” to peace? We must, as Mahatma Gandhi said, be the change we want to see in the world. This feels like an aged statement by now – but one we have yet to enact. In order to have peace, we must truly, be peace. The good news is that this is not at all impossible. In fact it is within immediate reach if we just think and listen differently, because as we know, we cannot solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created it in the first place.

Isn’t seeing others suffer, knowing that we can help, just another form of violence towards others, and a violence towards our inner-selves, our souls, depriving us of our own happiness? No one chooses to be a refugee or migrant. Facing poverty, discrimination, violence, war, corruption and malnutrition is a prison, because it renders you helpless to live a full life. Migration is the only escape.

Xenophobia is a prison – a Robben Island of mind and matter – that can never lead to peace or happiness. Of mind, because society is a reflection of the images we create of each other, and it is these perceived images that fight and hate. Of matter, because we can never build walls high enough to keep destitute people out – and even if we could – would that not be a prison in itself?

Xenophobia is defined as hatred and fear of that which is foreign or “strange” to us. The definition of a phobia is according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary “an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation” (italics ours). This is what xenophobia is – exaggerated, inexplicable and illogical. This is actually great news because this is also the way out of this mental prison.

This phobia can be conquered with education and familiarity. We can be realistic about our fears and help others overcome theirs. We can educate ourselves and others, check social and economic facts about immigration, get to truly know one-another without wearing inflammatory blindfolds produced by scaremongering. We can realise that by hating or fearing others we are corroding our own inner peace and happiness.

We can consciously liberate our minds. What political messages do we choose to listen to? What kind of news do we read? What kind of movies, games, books and even people, do we subject our minds to? Our children’s minds? Our inner peace? We can remain passive and continue to subject ourself to violence and fear – or we can choose those sources that come from love. We can remind ourselves that all revered and unforgettable leaders in history; Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, people like John Lennon – stood for one thing – LOVE – not fear or scaremongering.

It is so easy to be negatively influenced by hatred and violence. We hear or see what we want to hear and see, as a result of what we have been influenced by. If we look for the “terrorist” we will surely find him in the foreigner. If we look for the human being in the migrant, we will find her too. If we look for love – we find love.

Born a slave, the greek philosopher Epictetus said: “No man is truly free who is not a master of himself.”. We can free our minds from the pollution of hate and fear. With free minds we see that there truly is nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear will lead us to imprison ourselves in our own countries by trying to keep others out. Fear will lead to more wars and violence. Fear will erode our human rights and our privacy. By choosing to break free from our imprisoned state of mind, we become not only free and happy – we actually become peace.

This is an “Oprah Aha” moment and it only takes a second! This is how, if we want it, peace is within our immediate reach.

“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” –Eleanor Roosevelt, Human Rights Champion.

But surely we cannot accommodate the world in a few countries? Surely we cannot afford to help everyone in the world? We can, because the financial cost alone of “terrorism” and wars is far greater than dealing with the issues at source. We don’t have to be accountants to figure that out. Spending on war and “anti-terrorism measures” is a fallacious argument when we need to solve the real sources for conflict. With freedom comes responsibility and we must help people at home and in their own countries. Most people actually want to stay in their home countries if they could. This is where the focus should be.

In order to choose freedom over xenophobia we need development and growth as if human beings mattered. Not more economic development based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or arbitrary monetary values (see also blog “About What Peter Buffet Said on Philanthropy, ROI and Understanding” http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/bettina-gronblom/philanthropy_b_3962660.html). Wealth doesn’t “trickle down” to the poorest and there is no equal “level playing field” to begin with in unequal societies. After decades of economic growth and numerous happiness studies, we know now that happiness doesn’t come from economic growth itself, but from our human relationships, showing and receiving compassion and love, and things like spending time in nature.

We need to free people from their “unfreedoms”, similarly to what Amartya Sen argued so well in his 1999 book Development as Freedom. We assert that as long as anyone suffers malnutrition, lacks access to clean water and proper education, are discriminated against, violated, suffer from corruption or environmental contaminations, have unequal rights or unequal opportunities and similar “unfreedoms”- no one can be truly free or happy. We are all one human family.

We can actively choose freedom over xenophobia, or put another way – choose to love and not to fear. We can start this journey in a split second by thinking differently, seeing things differently.

We can be peace now.

Source: Huffington Post

June 14, 2015

Desmond Tutu & Trevor Manuel: Why tackling climate change is a moral and economic imperative

Nowadays, people are too often forced to choose between doing what is morally right and doing what is economically beneficial. Indeed, their options sometimes appear to be mutually exclusive, making the decision of which path to take exceedingly challenging. Sometimes, however, moral rectitude and economic interest merge, presenting an opportunity that must not be missed. That is the case – from the perspectives of this Archbishop and former finance minister – with the world’s response to climate change.

The moral imperative is indisputable, as the effects of climate change – including extreme weather, temperature changes, and rising sea levels – are felt most keenly by the global poor, who have also benefited the least from the economic activities that cause it. Moreover, climate change could accelerate poverty and inequality in the future, meaning that, unless we address it in a timely manner, it will diminish – or even eliminate – future generations’ chances to achieve their development goals. Making every effort to minimize climate change today is, quite simply, the right thing to do.

Fortunately, the economic benefits of addressing climate change are also clear. After all, climate change carries significant economic costs – for example, those associated with more frequent and extreme weather events. Moreover, building a “green” economy, based on continued technological innovation, is the smartest and most efficient way to create new engines of sustainable growth and job creation for the next generation.

Action at the individual, company, municipal, and national levels is crucial. But the fact is that climate change is a global problem – and thus requires a global solution. The most important tool the world has for doing the right thing – and reaping vast economic benefits – is a universal climate-change agreement. That is why world leaders must take the opportunity presented by the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this December to develop a single global framework for action.

In fact, world leaders already pledged to do so. The UN Climate Change Conference in 2011 – initiated and hosted by South Africa – produced an agreement to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, no later than this year.

Important progress has been made since the Durban conference. Last month, more than 30 countries – including the European Union’s members, Gabon, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, and the United States – submitted their post-2020 plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. In the coming weeks and months, this momentum will continue to build, as other countries – including, it is expected, major emerging economies like Brazil, China, and India – submit their commitments as well.

But if the Paris meeting is to be successful – in terms of both fulfilling the moral imperative and capturing the economic benefits of confronting climate change – every participating country must submit its national contributions for the period beginning in 2020 as soon as possible. Furthermore, the final agreement must include an effective and ambitious plan for de-carbonization over the next 50 years.

The fact is that short- and medium-term commitments alone are simply inadequate to fulfill the pledge, made by the world’s governments in 2009 and reiterated in 2010, to cap the rise in global temperatures at 2° Celsius relative to the pre-industrial era. It is crucial to create – and adhere to – a progressive long-term emissions-reduction strategy that sends a clear signal to capital markets that governments are serious about confronting climate change.

Such a strategy could include, for example, incentives for investment in low-carbon solutions. With some $90 trillion dollars set to be invested in infrastructure globally over the next 15 years, the impact of such an approach could be considerable – if not decisive.

The moral and economic imperatives to act on climate change could not be stronger. Although the road ahead will be difficult, with new and unexpected challenges arising along the way, we can find inspiration in Nelson Mandela’s famous dictum: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” We face an unprecedented opportunity to achieve a more sustainable, prosperous, and socially just future. Creating that future must start now.

Source: World Economic Forum

June 8, 2015

Desmond Tutu: “God Is Not A Christian. Nor a Jew, Muslim, Hindu…”

In interview originally published with Real Leaders, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and social rights activist Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu says he is not threatened by the beliefs of others. He believes the world should become more aware of our shared humanity to avoid future conflicts.

You represent a very specific world view, Christianity, yet have managed to mediate between opposing belief systems and make people aware of their common humanity. How have you managed this?

It doesn’t matter where we worship or what we call God; there is only one, inter-dependent human family. We are born for goodness, to love – free of prejudice. All of us, without exception. There is greater commonality in our belief systems than we tend to credit, a golden thread expressed in the maxim that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. I don’t believe in the notion of “opposing belief systems.” It would be more accurate to say that human beings have a long history of rationalizing acts of inhumanity on the basis of their own interpretations of the will of God.

In your view, what does the world need more of in order to become more peaceful?

Our failure to recognize the humanity in others lays the foundations for selfishness rather than selflessness. It leads to gross inequity and hideous disparities in qualities of life – and, often, the degradation of environments in which relatively poor people live. A world that recognizes the equal worth and vulnerabilities of all its people will be a much more peaceful place.

Has the role of religion changed over the last 10 years?

Peoples’ interpretation of religion can change, but I don’t believe the role of religion is changeable. Religion does not just concern one’s personal relationship with God; it’s more about the manner in which we interact with others – about our broader responsibilities to the human family and the earth we share.

Figures suggest many young people are turning away from the church. Is it possible to be a good human being without being religious? 

Much as I’d love to see all the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues and temples overflowing with humanity, how good we are is not measured by the number of times we attend formal religious ceremonies. Among the most heartening trends I have noticed on my travels over the past dozen or so years has been the spiritual strength of young people. They don’t necessarily occupy the front pews on Sunday, but they seem to have been born with an enhanced sense of tolerance and a deep understanding of our inter-dependence, on each other and a functional world.

The phrase “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” has been used by various people and political groups across the world to justify their actions. How do you reconcile such opposing viewpoints in people who are all convinced they are fighting for freedom?

Many have argued that people committing acts of violence in pursuit of just objectives should be regarded as freedom fighters, not terrorists. Nelson Mandela is a leading recent example of this dual identity. He was undoubtedly a freedom fighter who, at a particular stage in the struggle against apartheid, concluded that non-violent means of struggle were failing to achieve democracy and convinced his organization to take up arms. Although the resistance army that he commanded initially targeted infrastructure, rather than people – and was ultimately of significantly greater symbolic than military value to the liberation cause – Mandela and his comrades were branded terrorists at home and abroad. I don’t believe there is ever a valid justification for violence, it only begets more violence. Where people are not free they should struggle for their freedom through non-violent means. In the 1970s and 1980s, with the help of our friends abroad, South Africans developed a non-violent toolbox of boycott, sanctions and divestment. Together with mass resistance – people swimming together in pursuit of a righteous cause are unstoppable – we brought the apartheid state to its knees.

Read the full interview