Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Desmond Tutuby John Allen
To be a rabble-rouser for peace may seem to be a contradiction in terms. And yet it is the perfect description for Desmond Tutu, Nobel laureate and spiritual father of a democratic South Africa. Tutu understood that justice -- a genuine regard for human rights -- is the only real foundation for peace. And so he stirred up trouble, courageously engaging in heated face-to-face confrontations with South Africa's leaders; he stirred up trouble in the streets, leading peaceful demonstrations amid the barely controlled fury of police battalions; he stirred up trouble on the world stage, seeking international disinvestment in the apartheid economy.
Tutu has led one of the great lives of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and to read his story in full is to be reminded of the power of one inspired man to change history. In this authorized biography, written by John Allen, a distinguished journalist and longtime associate of Tutu, we are witnesses to courage, stirring oratory, and a demonstration of the power of faith to transform the seemingly intransigent.
We know in retrospect that the apartheid resistance movement was successful and that South Africa, though not without its problems, today faces an infinitely brighter future than it might if it had not been for the efforts of Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and other leaders.
But no such outcome was ever a certainty. Through the author's personal experiences, total access to the Tutu family and their papers, and considerable research, including the use of new archival material, Allen tells the story of a barefoot schoolboy from a deprived black township who became an international symbol of the democratic spirit and of religious faith.
Allen personally observed how Tutu, at genuine risk to his own safety, repeatedly intervened between armed soldiers and stone-throwing students to keep the peace, how he faced constant death threats and angrily stood up to the leaders of the cruel apartheid system. Using his own faith as a cudgel, Tutu asked those officials to confront their own Christian background and made them reconcile their actions with their own professions of belief.
Often through the sheer power of moral example and with a lyrical command of the English language, Tutu was able to appeal to the conscience of the world and to the emotions of an angry crowd in the streets. And then, when the battle for South African rights was finally won, it was Tutu who insisted on finding a path to forgive the former oppressors by strongly backing and serving on the unprecedented Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Today, the archbishop continues to appeal to the world's conscience by opposing the continuance of war and the inadequacy of the international response to the AIDS/HIV crisis sweeping Africa. He has led a life of commitment, one that continues to matter.
John Allen has movingly captured the flavor and details of that life and marshaled them into a commanding story, one that sheds light on the struggles and triumphs of our times.
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Read an Excerpt
Desmond Tutu tensed in the backseat of his car as he left Bishopscourt, his official residence as Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, late in the afternoon of Wednesday, March 16, 1988. A tight knot formed in the pit of his stomach. Usually this happened when he was summoned to defuse confrontations in the city's black townships, regular occurrences in which he often stood between two groups spoiling for a fight: on the one side, defiant students carrying bricks and stones; on the other, heavily armed policemen with fingers on their triggers. Today was different. As Tutu's chaplain and driver, Chris Ahrends, drove out through the imposing white gate posts, he turned north toward the city center (downtown Cape Town), where the archbishop had an appointment at Tuynhuys, the Cape Town office of P. W. Botha, also known as Piet Wapen ("Piet Weapon") or die Groot Krokodil ("the Great Crocodile"). Botha was the state president of South Africa.
The thirteen-kilometer (eight-mile) drive from Bishopscourt to Tuynhuys offered an array of snapshots symbolizing past and current oppression. Bishopscourt was part of an estate owned by South Africa's first white settler in the seventeenth century. The archbishop's home -- a large whitewashed two-story mansion with acres of gardens -- was the oldest privately owned house in the country. The agapanthus and cannas that grew there were said to come from stock planted by Dutch colonists. Beyond the estate, to the south, were the remains of a wild almond hedge, grown by the colonists to keep out of their settlement the likes of Tutu -- the indigenous people of South Africa. In 1988, Tutu's second year as archbishop, he was living in Bishopscourt illegally, having refused to ask for permission to live in what apartheid designated a "white area."
The route into the city ran along the eastern flank of Table Mountain, originally covered by fynbos (fine, or delicate, bush), the beautiful vegetation -- unique to the southwestern tip of Africa -- that makes up the smallest and richest of the world's floral biomes. Now the slopes were built up and occupied by the wealthiest Capetonians, whites who had displaced the fynbos with big houses and gardens in which they grew foreign, if also beautiful, plants from their countries of origin. As Tutu's car rounded Devil's Peak on the northeastern corner of the mountain, he could look out over Table Bay, the harbor that had attracted Dutch sailors as a refreshment station on their way to the east. Beyond the harbor was Robben Island, used since the earliest days of colonialism to jail any who dared resist the incursions of the settlers. Farther down the hill, just before the car dipped into the city center, an enormous scar of overgrown, rubble-strewn land came into view. This was District Six, which had been a shabby and poverty-stricken, but nevertheless a vibrant and thriving multiracial community until the 1960s, when Botha initiated a process that led to its destruction and the deportation of its people to windswept sandy wastes far out of town.
Ahrends pulled up at Botha's office a few minutes before 6 PM. This building too dated back to Dutch rule: the original structure, de Tuynhuys (the "Garden House"), had been built by the Dutch East India Company as a guesthouse alongside the gardens which supplied passing ships. Tutu had been there before, but never at a time of such high tension between church and state. Three years earlier, in September 1984, the third major uprising against apartheid -- the one that was to start its final collapse -- had begun in the industrial area around the Vaal River, south of Johannesburg. Just a few weeks previously, on February 24, 1988, Botha's police minister, Adriaan Vlok, had outlawed the activities of seventeen organizations involved in the uprising, including coalitions representing two of the country's largest political forces. In response, the South African Council of Churches had convened an emergency meeting of church leaders, who resolved to pick up where the banned organizations had left off. The church leaders also decided to fly to Cape Town, seat of South Africa's parliament, to convey their decision to the government.
On Monday, February 29, 25 church leaders and about 100 other clergy and lay workers gathered at St. George's Cathedral, Cape Town, which backed onto the government complex incorporating Parliament and Tuynhuys. At a short service, the general secretary of the Council of Churches, Frank Chikane, read out a petition addressed to Botha and members of Parliament. The Anglican activist Sid Luckett instructed members of the congregation in the precepts of nonviolent direct action. He warned them that although the police, already swarming outside, were unlikely to use tear gas in the city center, they had used dogs, sjamboks (rawhide whips), and water cannons before.
Copyright © 2006 by John Allen
Meet the Author
John Allen is a South African journalist who served as director of communications for that country's groundbreaking Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and for Trinity Church, Wall Street, in New York. He is a former president of the South African Society of Journalists and has received awards in South Africa for defense of press freedom and in the United States for excellence in religious journalism.
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