For a very long time I avoided the call of
ordination. I had a very, very full life, and did many,
many things. And yet the one consistent thing through all of it has
been a very strong sense of my life and work as ministry.
I am the executive director of the Desmond and Leah Tutu
Legacy Foundation, and that is a very broad ministry. It
offers me a platform to speak out on issues of concern to humanity
in many forms. I also serve as priest in a small township named Joe
For many years, people thought my father had written a
book on forgiveness - except that he had not written a
book on forgiveness. Forgiveness is something of very deep interest
to me. I am studying for a Ph.D. on the subject. My father and I
decided that, out of our joint interest, we could write
He writes from his strong experience - his
lived experience of forgiveness, and what it does to the human
psyche - and I write from my perspective, of both some academic
knowledge and insight but also as one having to walk my own
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) always saw
itself as part of a process rather than an
event. The same is true with forgiveness: it is not an
event but a process. The TRC really opened the door to a process
that we, as South Africans, have a responsibility to carry forward.
So, in terms of beginning the process, it was very successful. In
terms of seeing it to a conclusion, it was not necessarily as
Before the first TRC hearings, my father took
the commissioners on retreat. They learnt that you can either be
like a vacuum cleaner or a washing machine. A vacuum cleaner sucks
up all of the dirt and holds it, until either it explodes or you
manage to empty it. A washing machine takes in the dirty laundry
and, even as it washes, it rinses and lets the water go
immediately. So it was necessary for the commissioners to not only
have spiritual counselling, but also psychiatric counselling along
My father has leaned heavily onhis faith, but
also his spiritual life- and on his relationship with my mother as
well, to carry him through the real tortures.
We love each other, and the first and most
important thing in my relationship with my father is thatI know my
father loves me - sometimes even admires me, and I can say the same
of him. My parents and my children have been the greatest
influences on my life.
The new South Africa has been founded on forgiveness,
yes. It is in our experience that we, as South Africans,
are still able to look at each other, and we are still people with
a very profound hope. I think that if the new South Africa was
founded on war or avenging wrongs, we would have lost all hope for
As South Africans, we have a colloquialism: "We
will make a plan - whatever the issue is we have to confront, we
will make a plan." That, in part, is a legacy with a different
The TRC was successful in drawing the line under the
apartheid regime. That allowed us, as South Africans, to
share a common story. Under apartheid, each racial group in South
Africa had its own story of what South Africa was. Now we have a
common story, and we share a history. It is a painful history, but
it is a shared history, and a history that we are recognising that
all of us need to heal.
South Africa does remain a violent place. We
are traumatised people. Yet violence is not the whole story of what
South Africa is. Tourists come in their millions every year, and
most of them go back home and tell the story of the wonderful
experience they had.
I think that walking the path of forgiveness has been
what has allowed me to stand, especially through the
murder of Angela [an employee] in our house.
Growing up under the apartheid regime was tense and
For much of the TRC period, I was not at home.
But the one thing I remember from the times I was home during that
period was that my mother always insisted on waiting up for my
father. If he had gone to a hearing that was at a distance, she
would wait for him to come home; and, if he had gone toa meeting
that was in reach, she would go with him to support him.
My hope is that we are able to truly deliver on our
freedom promise, that South Africa can be a place of
possibility and flourishing for all of her people. My fear is that
we will continue to divide between the rich and the poor.
I love to travel. I love the sound of the
cooing of pigeons.
And I love the Bible, because it is a library
of books, and it also leadsme into reading other books. So, in
terms of being influential, it is the Bible.
Books that please me? Barbara Kingsolver's. I
think her writing is just delicious. And Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's
Purple Hibiscus, an incredible piece of writing. I have a
very eclectic taste in books.
I pray for my children and my family, and for
I would choose God as my companion if I was to
find myself locked in a church for a few hours.
The Revd Mpho Tutu is appearing at the Bloxham Festival on
31 May (info and tickets: www.bloxhamfaithandliterature.co.uk). She
was talkingto Terence Handley MacMath.
The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu is out now
(William Collins, £14.99 (CT Bookshop £13.50)).
Desmond and Mpho Tutu are holding a free 30-day event to
teach the world to forgive. To sign up, visit