Report of General Monthly Meeting

Desmond Tutu and the Rainbow Nation
A talk given by Richard Costard on 14th February 2017

After an exasperating few moments trying to get the technology to work a ray of South African sunshine was shed on a cold grey Littleton Hall where Richard Costard gave an interesting and illustrated talk on how the Rainbow Nation came into being. Starting with the words of Martin Luther King we were reminded that it is not only South Africa that suffered from apartheid. It still exists in Palestine/Israel, America/Mexico and in many other countries.

The South African situation started with the Battle of Blood River which took place on 16th December 1838 when surviving white Dutch settlers made a covenant with God that they would take the Zulu land and convert the population to Christianity. The Dutch Reform Church told them that “all black skinned people were cursed” because they came from the seed of Caanan. So started the division of the black and white races in South Africa.

In 1910 the first Prime Minister was Louis Botha. He decreed that “there was no place for blacks”, even Jan Smuts who was a prominent South African and British Commonwealth statesman who was Cambridge educated and was very deprecating about the blacks. The Dutch Reform Church in 1948 decided that “because of God’s curse on Ham’s son Caanan” all his tribe would be slaves, so apartheid was God’s will, therefore the races must be kept apart and mixed marriage banned.

When David Malan became Prime Minister he introduced the Pass Laws which caused much grief as all blacks had to carry their Pass Books at all times. He also divided the country into designated areas, the worst for the blacks and the best for whites. But the white population realized they could not do without the labour. A picture of a divided bathing beach was shown. We also saw pictures of the Sharpeville massacre which took place because of the pass laws. 69 people were killed.

Desmond Tutu was born in 1931. He wanted to be a Doctor but his family couldn’t afford the training, so he followed his Father’s footsteps and became a teacher. He resigned in protest due to the poor educational opportunities for blacks. However he continued his studies in Theology and was ordained a priest in 1961 following his mentor Trevor Huddleston. When he first met Huddleston he was amazed to see that Huddleston doffed his hat to Tutu’s Mother, which unheard of in a white man. Huddleston gave Tutu the book “Cry the Beloved Country” which made a huge impression on him. When asked why he took up the ministry he said that “God just grabbed me by the scruff of the neck” “religion is not just for Sundays.”

Tutu came to study in London at Kings College where he received his BA and Masters Degree in Theology. While working in London he loved to stop a Policeman and ask the time of day. He would never have dared to do so in South Africa. He returned to Africa and went to work in Lesotho where he had to ride a pony – he got very sore.

During the 1970s he became more involved in Soweto and appealed to the Government to revoke the Pass Laws. After the riots against the compulsory use of Africaans in schools he supported the economic boycott of South Africa.

Tutu tried to prevent the brutal practice of necklacing mostly conducted by black on black and criticized some of the anti apartheid groups. He told them he would leave South Africa if it went on. He was briefly jailed and had his passport removed, but his international reputation saved him from the worst.

In 1983 Tutu helped to fight for constitutional changes. In 1990 he was by his friend Mandela’s side when was released from Prison. He coined the phrase Rainbow Nation after the first South African democratic election in 1994. “ We must all be brothers and sisters on a rainbow bridge”. He also set up the truth and reconciliation committee.

Tutu is now retired having been awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1984 . He was also made Emeritus Arch Bishop of Cape Town. When asked what was the best thing about retiring which he did in 2011 he said” Leah his wife was the best decision of his life and now he had time to give her hot chocolate in bed every morning.

Penny Chamont