Thursday, January 6, 2022

"Arch": Desmond Tutu 1931 - 2021

 Michael - Thursday

At the end of last year we lost the man who was South Africa's moral compass - Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He was one of a very few people who fought consistently for what was right, what he believed in. Victory made no difference. There was always another struggle ahead.

I wanted to write about him, but I didn't know where to start. His life can't be summarized in a few hundred words because his contribution stretched up to the day of his death. And even beyond. When I mentioned this dilemma to Stan, he suggested that I let "Arch" (as he was affectionately known) speak for himself. So here are a few of the things he said. And what he said he never recanted because each statement was always directed by that moral compass and his deep beliefs. But they were leavened by his gentle humour. Judge for yourself.

On humanity:

“A person is a person through other persons; you can't be human in isolation; you are human only in relationships.”

"A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are."

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

On the struggle against apartheid:

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

“There is nothing more difficult than waking someone who is only pretending to be asleep.”

"I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of human rights."

“We shall be free only together, black and white. We shall survive only together, black and white. We can be human only together, black and white.”

Tutu chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

On forgiveness:

“Forgiving is not forgetting; it's actually remembering--remembering and not using your right to hit back. Its a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don't want to repeat what happened.”

“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.”

 "Enemies are always friends waiting to be made."

 “We learn from history that we don't learn from history!”

On colonialism:

“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said "Let us pray." We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”

One for writers:

“Language is very powerful. Language does not just describe reality. Language creates the reality it describes.”

On events since democracy:

"What has happened to us? It seems as if we have perverted our freedom, our rights, into license, into being irresponsible. Perhaps we did not realize just how apartheid has damaged us, so that we seem to have lost our sense of right and wrong."

"It's worse than the apartheid government. Because at least you were expecting it with the apartheid government. Now with our government we were expecting it to be sensitive to the sentiments of our constitution."

On personal regrets:

"The struggle tended to make one abrasive and more than a touch self-righteous. I hope that people will forgive me any hurts I may have caused them."


  1. What an incredibly wise person, from those who maintain our hope for humanity.

    1. And even when he was bitterly disappointed with what was happening in South Africa and the world, he always followed hope like a beacon.

  2. Thanks for all these lovely quotes ! I too felt compelled to say my thanks and goodbye to the arch in a blog post, he was that guiding light that forced one to see the truth

  3. Amazing how he could put things so succinctly right on target, and his use of imagery is outstanding

  4. What all the others have said. What a gift to us all was his example.

  5. May his words and deeds continue to serve as a beacon of light for the world in its existential battles against so much darkness.