He’s getting older, his body frailer after a battle with cancer, his energy dimmed, but not completely faded.
But Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu still does not shy away from voicing his opinions and saying what he believes is right.
Tutu spoke out about the need for African leaders and nations to hold Muammar Gaddafi accountable-something they have not done during his 40-year despotic reign in Libya.
According to an Associated Press article,
U.S. and European allies are conducting the widest international military effort in Libya since the Iraq war. But an African Union panel said late Saturday it was opposed to a foreign military intervention.
Tutu says there would be no need for a military interventions in Libya if Africa’s leaders had held their peers to account.
Gadhafi has long played a big role in the African Union, using Libya’s oil wealth to fund its transformation. He also served as AU chairman in 2009.
I first heard Tutu speak while I was a student at Stanford, and had the honor to meet him in person almost exactly 15 years ago, after he presided over the first day of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s hearings in Natal Province.
He had spoken little during the day, but offered a stunning summary when the sisters of a white woman who had been killed in the Magoo Bar bombing said she wanted its author, Robert McBride, removed from office.
This episode is covered in some depth in the film, Long Night’s Journey Into Day.
Tutu listened patiently, thanked the women for coming and for their contribution in healing the nation.
Then he said that their stance toward McBride illustrated the wonder of those who had gone beyond and forgiven.
With that, he dismissed the Commission for the day.
I felt very much like a young boy as I approached ‘the Arch’ and asked him to take a picture with me.
Although not speaking with much clarity or force, I did manage to convey that I had been there during the apartheid era, when he had come to Stanford and delivered his message about the need to topple the apartheid regime that was then implementing a state of emergency.
“Oh, yes, you people were good on that issue,” he said, his eyes twinkling as we took a picture together.
Of course, Tutu’s takes on issues facing other African nations have not always been well received.
Tutu’s statements about other African nations have not always been welcomed in the past. Philip Gourevitch’s classic debut book, We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, has a memorable if distressing scene in which Tutu urged Rwandans to get on with the business of reconciliation just about a year after the genocide that saw more than 800,000 people killed in 100 days.
Gourevitch quotes people saying Tutu’s message inaccurately presumed that the South African and Rwandan contexts were sufficiently similar to warrant the same approach.
But he delivered his message nevertheless, just as he will continue to do until the day, hopefully far away but very probably not long, when he takes his final breath.