By Samuel Akpobome Orovwuje
This tribute is a reflection on the capabilities of Archbishop Desmond Tutu; as a truth- bearer and a beacon of hope for the voiceless. The tribute further aimed to explore the man behind sustainable peace and democracy in Africa.
he hope is that this commentary will shed some light on the personality of Desmond Tutu, the man who has come to epitomize, human right, truth-and-reconciliation, and restorative justice; and the man who in addition, represents key facets of what it means to be human.
Desmond Tutu is, quite simply, the most famous humanist in the 21st century. He achieved remarkable fame in the struggles against apartheid in South Africa and he exponentially increased our understanding of humanity, peace and reconciliation, restorative justice and human rights. “Forgiveness is not just an altruistic act, but one born of self-interest. Forgiveness affords people the resilience to survive and remain human in the face of others’ effort to dehumanize them.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been the face of human right for decades in Africa. His groundbreaking work during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearing, particularly on the concept of Ubuntu, “a quality that includes the cardinal human virtues of compassion and humanity” which became the cornerstone of the South Africa’s interim constitution in 1993 and the 1994 constitution respectively, underscores some of the enduring legacy of the finest gentleman in disruptive leadership thinking, in South Africa, after Nelson Mandela.
The greatest legacy of Desmond Tutu, in my view, is his role as the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), established to deal with human rights violations and abuses perpetrated under apartheid and to help South Africa come to terms with its horrendous past through national reconciliation. Indeed, the mandate of the TRC is centered on truth-finding and bridge-building process that would help heal the deeply divided country, and to lay foundation for a new future based on authentic peaceful coexistence, democracy and human rights. In his words: “we need to know about the past in order to establish a culture of respect for human rights. It is only by accounting for the past that we can become accountable for the future”.
Without doubt, the single most profound legacy of Desmond Tutu is the Ubuntu philosophy of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation, which are strategic gateway to restoring human dignity to both victims and perpetrators. What is clear is that the principles of restorative justice are deeply rooted in African Philosophy and values. The contributions of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) remains brimming in Africa legal jurisprudence and reconceptualization of universal human right notions across the globe.
Archbishop Tutu acted as a great counter force against apartheid regime and was a man gifted with extraordinary mind, courage, love and uncommon humanity, in the face of oppression and racial discrimination. His moral compass pulls hope that a free South Africa, and indeed a free world, was possible. In his own words, ‘Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument’. He stood up for what he believed in. Suffice to say, he has shaped the truth and reconciliation landscape and his influence will linger long into the future.
So how can Desmond Tutu expect to be remembered? The true nature of his legacy will likely remain certain for decades, or perhaps centuries, to come. We may say with some confidence that he is among the finest humanist of his era and indeed an extraordinary torchbearer of the gospel and leading light in social and epistemic justice. And his manifestation of astonishing willpower and determination to fight battles with love stands him out.
Sadly, the profound psychosomatic carryovers and the negative product of the apartheid regime and attendant dispossession of their common heritage and personal pride continue to obstruct the wheel of progress and development in the rainbow nation.
While we mourn and celebrate the exit of a humanist par excellence, his profound and immutable legacies beckon us to follow his deep insight into the human conditions and exalt his spirit of togetherness, moral ideals and his existential collective humanity for the greater good. “We are different so that we can know our need of one another, for no one is ultimately self-sufficient” … “The completely self-sufficient person would be sub-human.” (Desmond Tutu 1999).
Crucially, South Africa and post-apartheid leadership has demonstrated she is a nation and a people where, more than anything else, peace, reconciliation and forgiveness matters in nation-building efforts. It is instructive to note that Desmond Tutu has shown the way for us in Nigeria that a genuine reconciliation can be achieved irrespective of their ethnic, religious, cultural affinity and bias.
Painfully, there are various human rights violations, particularly, the Asaba Massacre of 1967, when thousands of innocent men and boys were exterminated in hail bullets, that should not be swept under the carpet. The Nigerian state has been gross violations of its citizens, from Zaki Biam massacre, to Odi massacre, and Shiites amongst others. A dialogue and national reconciliation mechanism is required as a step forward to a genuine nation healing efforts
Interestingly, in the midst of the current concerns about the quality of leadership, this tribute is both a practical reminder of the urgent need to have men of courage in the public service, the national assembly and a vital contribution to the ongoing debate about what kind of leadership we should be encouraging in today’s volatile and uncertain Nigeria. Therefore, we can distill a series of reflections on the very fundamentals of leadership that inspire integrity , warmth and humanity, sharing dangers and hardships which were the essential and basic building blocks that typify the life and times of Desmond Tutu.
While we celebrate the exit of Desmond Tutu as peace and restorative justice icon, the challenge before us is that most African leaders are instigating conflicts and multidimensional poverty. Fundamentally, Africa must choose the path of sustainable peace and democracy through credible elections.
Orovwuje, founder Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons, Lagos. 08034745325, [email protected]