Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|January 3, 2022|4 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor's Desk

"Weep Africa for the rabble rouser for peace."

Africa wept this weekend as one of those rare people who walked good, talked good and did good was laid to rest. Sadder still, is that a lot of the good he stood for was buried long before he was.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu died this week, aged 90, he was cremated and his ashes interred behind the pulpit in St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town where he had held forth, on the good fight, for so many years. His principles guided  his hand right up to the end; he decreed that he must lie in the cheapest coffin his loved ones could find and all the money for flowers be sent to good causes.

That was the Arch – as we journalists in Africa used to call him – the activists’ activist – a clergyman who called himself a rabble rouser for peace and stood, unbowed, for generations  in fighting the cause of the oppressed in South Africa.

Now, these days, there is a lot of rot talked by leaders about integrity, codes of ethics and peer reviews. It makes me want to spit; this waffle is, all too often, a cynical smokescreen to conceal self-serving treachery.

The Arch didn’t need any books – except for the good book – or flannel, or twaddle,  he just did. No place for corruption, nor chicanery, in his world ; he merely led by example.

Probably the finest example I can remember is at the funeral of Griffiths Mxenge– a lawyer and political activist who defended fearlessly the victims of apartheid.

Apartheid assassins killed Mxenge on a night of treachery and blood at the side of the road in Umlazi in KwaZulu Natal in 1981. The assassins pretended their car had broken down and when the good Samaritan Mxenge stopped to help, they seized him, stabbed him 43 times, slit his throat and dumped his body on a nearby sports field.

At the funeral there was a whiff of anger and revenge in the air among tens of thousands of mourners. As the Arch delivered the service,the mourners turned on one of their number  accusing him of being an “impipi” a sell-out, or informer. They beat him and prepared to “necklace”  him – that is putting a petrol-soaked tyre around his neck and setting fire to it. If you want a glimpse  of hell, you should see the malevolent, gloating, twisted, faces in a  street lynching.

The Arch pushed his way through the crowds and threw himself, prostrate, on the man’s beaten body and refused to move until his attackers backed off. Then, he rose, with blood staining his purple robes, dusted the man down and drove him home.

Arguably, given the ugly mood of the crowd, both men could have died in this act of bravery by a humble man who preached the Bible who could have been plucked from one of its parables.

That was the Arch, charismatic, courageous, healer of the nation who wept at the struggles of his people; the nearest he got to devilish was his sense of humour. Many of the freedoms he fought for may have pre-deceased him, in this crazy world we live in, but his was a life lived for others.

The last word goes to the Arch, may he rest in peace:

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