Join our Mailing List

"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Tutu at 80: Will humble pie be eaten at his party?

October 12, 2011

By Karen Allen Southern Africa correspondent, BBC News

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "I've said that if they continue in this way, they are following in the steps of their predecessors"
Profile: Archbishop Desmond Tutu
It seems likely that technology will triumph over diplomacy - or lack thereof - when South Africa's Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu celebrates his 80th birthday on Friday.
The Dalai Lama may have been prevented from attending the event thanks to - many analysts say - President Jacob Zuma's government bowing to pressure from Beijing.
But a video link may save the day, enabling the exiled leader of the Buddhist faith in Tibet - who has spearheaded a decades-long campaign for greater rights for his people in the face of alleged oppression by the Chinese government - to deliver his speech.
Archbishop Tutu, feted for his irrepressible laughter, was incandescent when he learnt that his spiritual friend and co-laureate was calling off his trip.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote
I'm not a political animal but if there is an injustice that I see, then I will speak out ”
Desmond Tutu Nobel Peace laureate
Tutu in his own words
The Dalai Lama's gentle explanation that it appeared "inconvenient" for the South African authorities to grant him a visa was interpreted as a face-saving gesture for the very government that had snubbed him.
Hours later, grandees of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party were phoning radio shows to express soothing words of "love" for Archbishop Tutu despite calls for him to "calm down".
This was in response to his warning that the ANC was a "disgrace", mimicking the behaviour of the apartheid regime - which the ANC fought for more than 40 years to demand equal rights for black people in South Africa - by stalling the visit of such a prominent figure as the Dalai Lama.
But "the Arch", as he is fondly called by South Africans, is trying to move on and, although he was very sad about the whole affair when I met him, the spirit of forgiveness was beginning to waft through the air of his breezy office.
South Africa's 'moral conscience'
Among those expected to attend his birthday celebration is the very politician who was accused of caving in to Chinese pressure - Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
Adding insult to injury, he reportedly said the government would have issued the Dalai Lama a visa had he not called off his trip.
"Who believes this?" asked a clearly hurt Archbishop Tutu.
Mr Motlanthe may have been the focus of anger after he visited Beijing last week to cement bilateral ties, but it appears the proverbial hatchet is being buried.
Continue reading the main story
The story so far: Tutu timeline
Born 1931
1970s: Became prominent as apartheid critic
1984: Awarded Nobel Peace Prize
1986: Appointed Archbishop of Cape Town
1995: Appointed head of Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Strong critic of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Israel's policy against Palestinians and US-led war in Iraq
Profile: Archbishop Desmond Tutu
On Friday, he is expected to attend a service of thanksgiving for the archbishop, then share sandwiches with other prominent guests at a picnic on a farm.
The pair are old friends and, although the government maintains there was no Chinese meddling in the visa affair, the two men can agree to disagree.
"I'm not a political animal," insists Archbishop Tutu, "but if there is an injustice that I see, then I will speak out."
In a playful mixing of words, he says "anyone who tries to whitemail me or silence me, can go jump in the lake".
It is that kind of blunt honesty which explains why Archbishop Tutu, despite being officially retired, is still regarded by many South Africans as the "the moral conscience" of the nation.
'Great peacemaker'
The guest list for his birthday party is being kept a closely guarded secret and the media for large parts of the day will be kept out of the way, but Graca Machel - the wife of South Africa's first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela - is expected to be there.
 Many South Africans were furious that the Dalai Lama's visit had been cancelled
She serves with Archbishop Tutu and other international luminaries on the Elders, a body which Mr Mandela set up after he stepped down from office in 1999 to help resolve disputes around the world.
Other guests are expected to include Bono, the pop star who has turned into an anti-poverty campaigner.
Archbishop Tutu was the great peacemaker who led South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission after apartheid ended in 1994.
But he also clashed with the ANC at the time after it rejected the body's findings on the armed struggle it waged against white minority rule.
In the 1980s, he was among the first to speak out against the infamous "necklacing", which saw ANC supporters killing alleged collaborators with the apartheid regime by burning tyres around their necks.
In the post-apartheid era, he became the champion of racial reconciliation, coining the phrase "rainbow nation", an ideal which he admitted on the eve of his 80th birthday was "still a work in progress".
While details of the birthday feast are being kept under wraps, one would imagine that - in the wake of the row over the Dalai Lama's visit - next to a huge birthday cake, there would be large slices of humble pie.

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank