Desmond Tutu speaks about hope, forgiveness at Villanova

Speaking before an audience of more than 20,000 at Villanova University last night, Archbishop Desmond Tutu summarized the circumstances in which apartheid was ended in South Africa and stressed the importance of the forgiveness required of black Africans in the post-apartheid era. Roughly 75 Swarthmore students and several high school students from the Swarthmore Upward Bound program attended the lecture. Tutu ended his speech with an entreaty to the new generation of students everywhere not to give in to cynicism and to keep believing that “this world can become better.”

Student volunteers set the tone of the evening with the quote from Tutu on the back of their shirts, “Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It means taking what happened seriously…drawing out the sting in the memory that threatens our entire existence.” Dr. Maghan Keita, Director of the Department of Africana Studies at Villanova University, gave an introductory speech that outlined “three parts” that make up Desmond Tutu. According to Keita, Tutu is reflective of how far we have come and how much further we can go, he “inspires a quest for justice,” and “he inspires hope.” Tutu was then presented the Adela Dwyer/St. Thomas of Villanova Peace Award “in recognition of outstanding contribution to the understanding of justice and peace in the human condition” by Dr. William Werpehowski, Director of the Center for Peace and Justice Education at Villanova University.

Tutu took the stage to receive the Peace Award to a standing ovation. After giving his heartfelt thanks “for this privilege,” Tutu spoke about his experiences on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Originally, the world had thought that the first elections concerning apartheid would end in a bloodbath, but he was “relieved that so few were killed in the first days of the elections.” Tutu stressed that South Africa only succeeded against apartheid because of world support as students everywhere demonstrated in favor of divestment. Thus, the anti-apartheid laws were legislated over the President’s veto. Tutu expressed gratitude saying, “I know I speak on behalf of millions — we came asking for help and you gave us help, and now we are free.”

In the post-apartheid era, black Africans did not take revenge on their tormentors; instead, they forgave. Tutu observed that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created instead of holding trials because there was a military stalemate between the apartheid government and the liberation movements, because there was no possibility for implanting justice and apartheid era leaders would not hand over the government if they were to be prosecuted, and because the trials “would have drawn out the process of healing.” The perpetrators of apartheid were made to confess publicly on television because Tutu claimed, “we contend there is another kind of justice other than punishing the perpetrator” and that even those guilty of the most heinous crimes “are still children of God.” Tutu further stated that “the offender and victim must be reconciled.”

Reconciliation between victim and perpetrator began with efforts to reunite torn families, especially reuniting abducted victims with their families. While many efforts to reconcile victims with perpetrators were successful in giving closure, other victims still wanted trials. In response to these sentiments, Tutu said, “Forgiveness is never cheap…there is no future without forgiveness…an eye for an eye, as Gandhi said, leaves the world blind.”

Archbishop Tutu sees South Africa “as a beacon of hope,” and believes that if it is possible for peace and forgiveness there, it is possible anywhere. He finished his speech with words of hope: “Nowhere ever again can people say, ‘Ours is an intractable problem.’ If peace is possible in South Africa, peace is possible any and everywhere. Hatred is not appeased by Hatred. Hatred is appeased by Love alone. That is the eternal law.”

In response to audience members’ questions in a brief question and answer session that followed, Tutu expressed his hope that people will continue to engage in acts of generosity. As for what young people can do now, he stated that we cannot win a war against terror because terror will continue as long as there are conditions that make people desperate. He said that we must remember that the South African struggle was for an inclusive government that valued each person’s vote. He also warned, however, that “we have succumbed to social temptations” and that “we need young people to infuse the government with old ideals [that it has forgotten].”

Tutu finished the question and answer session by noting “forgiveness is becoming more respectable because retributive justice fails.” He said that it is important, though, that people keep questioning the status of the new government in South Africa — if people become monitors, then the project becomes pointless. He closed with comments of hope, that “despite all the ghastliness that has happened, [people] are fundamentally good.” To the current generation of young people, he advised, “If you want to be a leader, you must be a spendthrift for yourself on behalf of power. Leadership and power are for service, not for self aggrandizement.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his peace efforts in South Africa. He currently serves as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


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