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Desmond Tutu's impact in the fight against apartheid

The system of apartheid in South Africa became synonymous worldwide for injustice and human-rights violations. South Africa's white minority had been promoting segregated political, social and economic development since 1948. The aim of the government's policy was to secure supremacy for the white minority and suppress South Africa's non-white majority. By the beginning of the 1990s and following four decades of apartheid, national and international pressure upon South Africa's government had become so strong that the apartheid system was abolished. Desmond Tutu played a major role in the process towards the defeat of apartheid

Rev. Desmond Tutu began drawing attention to the situation in South Africa at the beginning of the 70s. At conferences, in his sermons, on his visits abroad and in articles, Tutu seized every opportunity to point out how evil, unmoral, diabolical and inconsistent apartheid ideology was with the gospel of Jesus Christ. On becoming the Dean of Johannesburg in 1975, he wrote a desperate letter to then Prime Minister Vorster to draw his attention to the tense and highly explosive situation in South Africa. His letter was disregarded and the situation in South Africa deteriorated with every day that passed.

Tutu was quick to recognize the unwillingness of the white government to negotiate and believed that only international pressure would bring about an end to the apartheid system. His appointment to General Secretary of the South African Church Council, which represented almost all of the country's churches, opened the window to the world and gave him the necessary political clout. Drawing on the support of bishops from other churches, he was able to call for civil disobedience among South Africa's population and ask for international economic sanctions against South Africa. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 placing South Africa firmly in the world's spotlight and giving Tutu yet more clout and room for manoeuvre.

By the mid eighties the situation in South Africa had took on characteristics similar to civil war. The government's response was to introduce a state of martial law and to ban all anti-apartheid organizations, but apartheid's days were now numbered. Thanks to Tutu's tireless efforts, international pressure on South Africa in the form of sanctions and boycotts had become irresistible - the way from apartheid to a democratic South Africa was being paved.

But what was it about Tutu's personality that captivated and fascinated people - black and white - that made him respected and listened to across the world and which eventually led to success? What was the difference between Tutu and the other black leaders and what made him a shining example? Surely one of the key factors was Tutu's "blindness to color and race".

Desmond Tutu had concerned himself with "black theology" during the 60s as a priest. This theology states that God came to the earth as a man and not as an animal or other creature. Therefore, man is made in the image of God, regardless of color and race. This theology has two implications: Firstly, it can be regarded as a theology for freedom providing the theological foundation for the fight against apartheid and, secondly, it states that all people of all color and race are equal. Tutu was always at pains to point out that the fight against apartheid was not exclusively a black one, but also a fight for whites. He believed that conciliation was only possible between equals. A white man could not be free for as long as the black man was not free, since he is forced to live in fear of blacks. Therefore, one of the main conditions for peace and democracy in South Africa was to establish equality and dignity for the black man.

It was this more moderate stance towards the white population that set him apart from the often more radical black leaders. More moderate in his tone, he also spoke the language of the white population. This enabled him to attract white as well as black followers for his vision of a rainbow South Africa in which all people could live in peace. This also made him an accepted and credible figure among South Africa's white population and internationally. He was one of the few blacks in a position to .

Tutu's love of all people regardless of color has its roots in his childhood. At the age of fourteen he became ill with tuberculosis and was visited in hospital daily over a two-year period by a white priest named Trevor Huddleston. Long periods of residence in England, where he was treated as a person and not as a black were also key in forming his character and giving him hope that a "rainbow nation" could be achieved in South Africa.

Another important aspect was Tutu's belief that a change had to come about using non-violent methods. He used all known methods of non-violent resistance available to him: Protests, demonstrations, manifests, civil disobedience and calls to boycott were all a part of his repertoire and, in the end, proved to be highly effective. Even during the most hopeless moments of the struggle, he called on the black population to resist using violence. He continually distanced himself from the violent attacks carried out by blacks and emphasized that black violence should be denounced just as readily as white violence. Despite often finding himself alone especially in the final days of the apartheid regime, Tutu's principles brought him deserved recognition by the Nobel Peace Prize committee as well as credibility abroad, which would prove prove essential in the fight against apartheid.

Desmond Tutu's fantastic personality is another reason why blacks and whites alike were and are drawn to him. At only 160 cm tall, Desmond Tutu is regarded as an excellent preacher of the old African school, yet at the same time an encouraging, expert speaker and partner in negotiations; he has also been referred to as "God's comedian", someone capable of creating laughter when the situation gets tense, but he is also a good and feeling listener. It is this charisma and his refusal to give way in his love of people that has made him so popular. Indeed, even the government of South Africa which regarded Desmond Tutu as one of their biggest enemies was powerless to tame him.

Desmond Tutu saw his calling in the conciliation of South Africa's peoples. He was prepared to risk his own life to achieve this aim. His hard and untiring work eventually paid off. Apartheid no longer exists and South Africa now has an elected, democratic and black government. The cornerstone for conciliation between South Africa's peoples was laid by the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose chairman, Desmond Tutu, is still active worldwide in the fight for human rights.


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