Archbishop Desmond Tutu salutes ‘magician’ Nelson Mandela who healed the nation

South Africa’s Anglican leader fondly remembers his good friend

Johannesburg

Nelson Mandela spent his first night of freedom at the home of Desmond Tutu. He had not wanted to stay at Bishopscourt, he recalled later, because the affluent suburb was “not an area where I would have been permitted to leave before I went to prison. I thought it would have sent the wrong signal to spend my first night in a posh white area.”

But by 1990, things had changed in the 27 years that Mr Mandela had spent incarcerated at Robben Island. Bishopscourt was still posh, but it also had non-white residents, at the insistence of the first black archbishop of the Anglican Church in South Africa and Nobel Prize winner who had earned great respect for his implacable, non-violent campaign against apartheid.

Last night, Archbishop Tutu presided over a remembrance ceremony for his house guest that night 23 year ago which was anything but maudlin with jokes and waves of laughter.

Steadfast supporters in the fight against apartheid, including the singer Peter Gabriel and Mary Robinson, the former Irish President were resoundingly cheered.

Madiba, said the Archbishop, was “a magician who had turned South Africa, a poisonous caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly”.

He described the brutality Mr Mandela had endured in prison leaving him with damaged lungs and eyesight. “But he came out of prison to set us free from hatred and racism. The world expected a bloodbath and atrocities, what we now have, instead, is this wonderful multicultural rainbow.”

There was a slight pause in the reaction of the audience when the Archbishop declared that Winnie Mandela too should be praised for the support she had given her former husband during the long years of struggle, and this was followed by generous applause.

The Archbishop claimed that he had forced Mr Mandela “to make an honest woman” of his last wife Graça Machel. “I told him you are setting a bad example. You should not be shacked up, marry her.”

If Mr Mandela was the leading political force in the campaign for emancipation, Desmond Tutu provided the moral compass, passionately declaring that segregation and discrimination were against God’s will, helping to galvanise swathes of religious opinion across the world against the racist regime.

Mr Mandela had stressed how much he valued the Archbishop’s friendship describing him as “sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour.”  The feeling was reciprocated, but the cleric was not uncritical, speaking out stridently over the years against senior figures in the African National Congress, some of them close allies of Mr Mandela, also affectionately known by his tribal name Madiba.

Mr Mandela himself must not be adored on a pedestal, the cleric stressed: “One has to be careful that we don’t hagiographic. Because one of the wonderful things about him is that he is so human. He is aware of that, in a way, there are feet of clay.”

He said Mr Mandela was not without failings: “his chief weakness was his steadfast loyalty to his organization and to his colleagues. He retained in his cabinet underperforming, frankly incompetent ministers who should have been dismissed. This tolerance of mediocrity arguably laid the seeds for greater levels of mediocrity and corruptibility that were to come.”

It was a measure of the esteem that Mr Mandela nevertheless held the Archbishop in that he asked him to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to investigate crimes committed at the time of apartheid. The decision to allow amnesty for perpetrators, mainly agents of the white government, some of whom had carried out the most vicious offences, drew criticism, but the TRC became a model for post-conflict scenarios around the world.

The Archbishop pointed out that it was the example of Mr Mandela’s magnanimity which helped shape his own actions: “He lived out the understanding that an enemy is a friend waiting to be made, and so could have his white former jailer attend his Presidential inauguration as a VIP guest; and have Dr Percy Yutar, who was the prosecutor in the Rivonia trial when he was sentenced to life imprisonment, the Dr Yutar who had wanted the death sentence, come to lunch with him at the Presidency; and could visit the widow of Dr Verwoerd, the high priest and architect of apartheid, for tea. The former terrorist could have those who used to think of him as Public Enemy No 1 eating out of his hand.”

Mr Mandela’s successors in the ANC had faced withering attacks by the Archbishop who charged that they “stopped the gravy train just long enough to get on themselves”. He had opposed Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s current president, who had been accused of sexual crimes and corruption, because of his “moral failings”. His criticisms of the government have ranged from accusing it of failing to help the poorer sections of the community, to failing to provide enough protection for migrant workers suffering from xenophobia.

The Archbishop has renewed his criticism of the ANC this year, especially over what he claimed were his efforts to silence critics, a betrayal of the ideals of the anti-apartheid movement: “If we have indeed become a nation that fears the consequences of not kowtowing to the government, we have clearly taken a wrong turn”, said the man who accompanied Nelson Mandela on some of the most difficult periods of the long walk to freedom

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
News
peopleWarning - contains a lot of swearing
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker / Telesales

£15000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading supplie...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project