|12. June 2009
Archibichop Dr. Desmond Tutu speaks out on the state of the world
South African archbishop emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu received the honorary doctorate of Vienna University on June 12, 2009. During the official ceremony in the traditional Main Hall of the University in which also the leadership of the Austrian protestant churches participated, Dr h. c. Desmond M. Tutu delivered the following speech:
Honourable Rector and distinguished Deans, your Excellencies, very distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen!
Thank you so very much, Professor Loader! I don’t know that I understood most of what has been going on but I presume that we are right: I am now a Doctor of this University. I have got to tell you the story that a few years ago I was in San Francisco and a lady rushed up to greet me and she was very warm and said, ‘Hello, Archbishop Mandela!’… sort of getting two for the price of one. But it is wonderful to be here and I wanted to say a few things.
If in the Nineteen-eighties and even in the Nineteen-nineties you had asked most people what they thought was likely to happen in South Africa most would have said, well now that situation is so bad, that situation is really intractable and we don’t think there is any way in which they are likely to resolve it short of the most awful catastrophe. We think actually that there is going to be a racial blood bath. Those were the predictions not of wild people but of very sober students. And there were times – as we are approaching our historic first democratic elections of 1994 – when it did seem those dire predictions were coming true, were being fulfilled because people were dying like flies. And there were so many times when they would publish the statistics of the last 24 hours and they would say, ‘Seven people, eight people, ten people were killed.’ It was so bad that we – you know, we would say ‘oh, only seven, only whatever number, only ten’.
Reminds me the story of someone who was driving his car up a mountain road and then he came to a cliff, the car had an accident. But he was lucky. The car rolled down the cliff. He managed to hold on to a very flimsy branch and he called out, ‘Help, is there anyone up there?’ ‘Yes, my son. Do you trust me?’ – ‘Yes!’ ‘Then let go of the twig and I will catch you before you hit the rocks of the bottom’.
‘Help! Is there anyone else up there?’
There were many times when we wished we could say ‘Is there anyone else up there?’ and then, April the 27th, 1994 happened and the world saw an extraordinary spectacle unfold before their very eyes when millions and millions and millions of our compatriots of all races stood in those long, long lines snaking their way to the polling booths, a truly magical day like none other ever. Yes, an extraordinary miracle had taken place. South Africa had his first democratic elections; Nelson Mandela was nominated as the first democratic elected president. We were victorious over one of the most vicious systems the world has known. But it was a victory that we would not have accomplished without the assistance of the international community and we want to thank all of you who made it possible. Those of you who used to boycott South African goods, those of you who used to hold vigils and demonstrations on our behalf. Here we are: a free South Africa, a democratic South Africa, a South Africa, seeking to be non-racial. We actually have a polyglot national anthem of all languages. We have eleven official languages. An incredible country helped to be were we are by such as yourselves and so one has to say, Thank you for helping us become free. – Now, I thought are going to clap there! [Applause]
I wanted to say that that, which happened in South Africa was followed by something quite extraordinary as well, because very many said, ‘Oh, oh, oh, yes, yes, there were this free, relatively peaceful elections, but wait, wait, wait! Before you can pretend that and it’s all hanky-dory we are able to see the most awful orgy of revenge and retribution. Black people are going to try to get their own back for all the many years of brutal oppression that they suffered.’ It didn’t happen! Instead the world watched with awe as victims of some of the most vicious, ghastly atrocities forgave the perpetrators and sometimes even embraced them in public. The world watched with awe as the process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission happened. We were very fortunate at that precise moment in the history of our country we should have been led by Nelson Mandela who by right after 37 years in jail should have emerged as someone consumed by bitterness. He amazed the world and quite rightly has become an icon of reconciliation because he asked his people, ‘No, not revenge, not retribution. Let us walk the path of forgiveness and reconciliation.’ I refer to all of this, friends, really, in order to say to you: you and I watch the world of God in some dismay. We see Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma suffering under house-arrest, suffering the deprecations of a vicious military Junta. We see some of those ghastly things that have happened in Sri Lanka. The things that are happening in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the unspeakable suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank. We look at what is happening to God’s children in Darfur. What is happening in Somalia. What has happened and continues to be happening in Zimbabwe.
And you? You say, ‘Oh, no, no. This is an awful world. The problems at especially the Middle East. No, no. There is no way really, that these are going to be resolved ultimately.’ And I refer to what happened in South Africa, happened because God wanted to say to the world, ‘You know what? This is a moral universe.’ Despite all appearances to the contrary, goodness, laughter, joy, compassion, caring – those are what are going to prevail ultimately in justice. Oppression, violence? – No, those are not going to have the last word. And God has chosen South Africa and said, ‘You see this country? Well, you know what it was like. They resolved their problem’. South Africa has been set up as an example of what should have been totally intractable. He set up for the world to see the possibilities. Because, yes my friends, there are those times when the perpetrators of oppression and injustice appear to be invincible. And it is awful. It must be awful for their victims. But all of them ultimately bite the dust. There was a time when Stalin and his Gulags appeared to be invincible cock-of-the-walk. Hitler. Six million are damned to death. And it did seem as if good is trampled underfoot forever. No! In the end the Hitlers, the Mussolinis, the Francos, the Amins, the perpetrators of the injustice of apartheid: in the end they bite the dust – in the end. [Applause] And so one day, one day, one day we are going to see the Jew and the Palestinian live together side by side amicably because this is God’s world and goodness and laughter and joy and caring and sharing: those are what will have the last word. Thank you.
(Faculty of Protestant Theology, University of Vienna)