An Apologia For The Unforgiven: a reflection on Desmond Tutu

I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency …the other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., 1964

I was compelled to begin this by half-jokingly asking “Wenzeni uTutu?”, using the famous refrain employed by former president Jacob G. Zuma’s supporters. I wanted to use the phrase to rhetorically question what Tutu has actually done for the Natives of this land called South Africa.

This is a serious question but even more timely since many South Africans are questioning the efficacy of the Rainbow Nation. Tutu may have blamed the African National Congress for many of the ill-fated decisions that were made since CODESA and the much-criticized TRC, but as a supposed moral figure, did he do enough to challenge the disastrous macro-economic policies of his contemporaries?

In trying to compose my thoughts around the personality, celebrated humanity, and infamy of Tutu, I cannot help but remember that in spite of him being a famous national figure in my country, I really did not know him at all until I read his books. The first one I encountered was titled No Future Without Forgiveness …, then I read his preface to Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like before I read his, God Is Not A Christian – Speaking Truth In Times Of Crisis. Perhaps the only way I can explain why I was so drawn to this man’s voice was how he truly wore his heart on his sleeve. Here was a Christian who was unafraid to point out and critique the gaping flaws in his own personality as well as the religion he professes. In short, as vehemently theologian as he was, the Arch spared no holy-cows in his own brand of Black theology. So why on earth was the former archbishop equally hated and loved so fiercely?

The recently deceased Archbishop Emeritus Despond Mpilo Tutu was more controversial in his own country than can be appreciated by anyone outside of Southern Africa. The almost equally controversial former Zimbabwean leader Robert G. Mugabe once called him “that little man“, but then again, Big Men of politics wield words like swords, bullets, and shields. The attacks that Tutu received from all parts of society certainly did not dim his effervescent personality and global shine. He certainly will be remembered more for his greater contributions in the struggle against apartheid tyranny rather than the more shadowy or controversial parts of his socio-spiritual career. Just like Dr. Martin Luther King, or even John Langalibalele Dube, these men of the cloth are immortalized by their larger-than-life personal sacrifices. Their perceived sins are no more than proverbial “signs and crosses in their way”, to quote a Rastafari Nyabinghi chant.

While it is possible that their armor as faithful Christian soldiers may have endeared them to the largely Christianised /colonized Black population, it certainly did for the White liberal establishment whose power as the thought-police cannot be under-estimated. Whether Tutu may have committed some gravely immoral acts or ommissions during and after his tenure as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is covered by either his own public tears, moralistic admonitions as well as the ‘sea of witnesses’. I am attempting to highlight the contribution of the neo-liberal propaganda machinery that has operated in Southern Africa even before the inevitable rise of the so-called Black Theology. We shall have to get back on some further analysis of that notion, suffice to say that, a lot of the foundations of our purported Black theology is largely founded on Eurocentric ideals of humanity, in spite of the many writings about Ubuntu by the likes of Tutu and other humanist philosophers. We may soon discover that many versions of ubuntu are just like many Abrahamic religions, merely a smokescreen to keep the heaving and languishing Black masses from identifying their true power and capacity to self-actualize.

King points out the shortcomings of naturalistic and humanistic explanations of human nature that leave out Christian perspectives. He rejects the all too sentimental notions about man. Even his shortcomings are explained in terms of errors or lags of nature. The belief that human progress is inevitable and that man is gradually evolving into a higher state of perfection is rejected. Freudian terms are used to explain away man’s misdeeds. All bad deeds are said to be due to phobias, inner conflicts – the conflict between the id and the superego. King sees the real conflict as between man and God, man and himself and his brother resulting from the estranged relation with God.” – Roberts, Liberation, and Reconciliation, ( excerpt from a critique of Dr. Martin Luther King in a book titled To Make The Wounded Whole, edited by Lewis V. Baldwin)

All men and women of great renown are also largely problematic. The Mandela’s, Martin Luther King’s, Gandhi’s, Haile Selassie I, Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s, Hilary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, or even Erykah Badu’s of this world carry long shadows along with their mesmerizing public personas.

This article seeks to not only investigate the legacy of one of these luminaries but also highlight briefly the dangers of unencumbered idealism and popularism, otherwise referred to as idolatry. The post-apartheid lives of the Mandela’s were bound to be tied up to the actions and inactions of other renowned South Africans. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has to be among the most famous South Africans next to Nelson and Winnie Mandela yet after the infamous Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which Tutu had called for but not obtained any apologies from any of the key figures in the apartheid state, his relationship with the Winnie Mandela soured significantly. The main bone of contention was that Tutu as the chairperson and the purported conscience of the nation, the proverbial Father of the Rainbow Nation notion had required of a Black woman what he would willing to get out of the White perpetrators of gross historical injustice.

Today as he has recently passed away, a vast array of the younger generation of South Afrikans find it hard to forgive the Elder for the perceived act of discriminating against a perceived and venerated heroine of the liberation movement. But for those who can remember, Winnie Mandela was equally vilified by many among the Black Consciousness and Pan Africanist movements, citing the very same controversial episodes that the Arch was rebuking her and asking her to apologize for. But there is much more to the story than the public spats and controversies. We shall delve into these intricate interpersonal relationships and examine just how the media and the gullible unquestioning public falls into the same traps of indecent exposure.

As I have mentioned earlier, much of our liberation struggle as well as general socialization is intimately tied to the Biblical God/s or the God of Israel. This ancient brew puts us in a peculiar position when it comes to how we perceive our leaders as well as reality in general. Those among us who have chosen to rebel against notions of paternalistic leadership as well as colonially constructed moral codes find ourselves perceived as outlaws or simply uncaring, even unforgiving. But what is there to forgive? In a land where the larger native population remains landless and economically impoverished, can we really honestly afford to celebrate perceived heroes who have not addressed the root causes of our wretched condition?

In critiquing Tutu, we must surely view him as a key member of a passing generation, while not passive, he can be viewed as one of those who fought for the assimilation of Afrikan into an ideal of a society that was already broken. Because let us face it, Eurocentric notions of faith and forgiveness without restorative justice are not what we deserve as a people. While the work to free ourselves from the burdens of whiteness is upon us, as we decolonize our minds and Afrikanise our institutions of learning and earning, our old leaders must also be brought to question, not on a witchhunt against the dead and the dying, but as a matter of principle, so that we can bequeath our children the health, wealth and Afrikan personality they deserve.


The next chapter will focus on the problem of Non-Whites* – the historical evolution of the house-negro and the pervasive ideology of messianism.

Published by greenankhworks

Healer, Translator, Lover, Writer, Father, Natural Health Promoter, Connector, Communications Consultant, Instigator, and Reviver of IKS

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