It is with great sadness that I’ve learned of the death of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu… a remarkable man of great character and decency.
It is fashionable for people to wax lyrically about the death of famous people they did not know – so as to capture some of the fickle fame and temporary popularity that might accompany such utterances. Unless I personally know the dead person, I would seldom say any more than a simple RIP.
Yet, while I did not personally know Tutu, the reach of his humanity played an important part in my own life personally – and so I want to briefly just make some observations.
Desmond Tutu fought for a lifetime against the illiberal and illogical tendency to essentialize people into categories – a trend that after his death, I am sad to say, is resurgent and growing in influence.
He fought against making vast, sweeping generalizations about any groups of people – and refused – despite personal pain’s motivational power – to see people only as actors of their demography, pigments or politics.
It is for this reason that he was a rare voice for gay and lesbian people at a time when most faith communities were behaving like tyrants. A handful of decent people refused to condemn homosexuality as intrinsically and inevitably sinful. Desmond Tutu was one of them.
As a free and equal person in a newly democratic South Africa – Desmond Tutu also refused to be swept along in ethnonationalist currents, or the cynical and opportunistic realpolitik which characterizes post-Apartheid South Africa.
He refused to back down on his friendship with The Dalai Lama merely because it embarrassed or inconvenienced the People’s Republic of China and the assorted cronies and gangsters that run the ANC. He also retained the decency, individuality and integrity to criticize a party that considers itself above criticism and immune from the consequences of its policies and actions. In this, he was a truly unique character which, sadly, is in very short supply.
This man did his best, in difficult circumstances, to act with decency, kindness, and humour. He certainly tried his utmost to exemplify the Christian values he claimed to hold – itself a rare trait in a world full of virtue signalling. This man walked the talk. He was the real deal. Whether you agreed with him on any given issue or not, he never once made you feel like you just dealt with a slick operator – nor did he ever make his opponents feel that they were less worthy of kindness because he disagreed with him.
As a person entitled to live a life without state persecution, and with the right to form a family with those I choose to, today, it is easy to forget that this outcome was hardly guaranteed – only a few short years ago. Throughout this legend’s continent – the basic rights of sexual and ethnic minorities are among the most precarious in the world.
He played a major part in my own liberation – and for that – I would like to thank him.
Rest In Peace, Great Man. There are not nearly enough like you – and a world that cares about justice understandably mourns your loss.