ON THURSDAY, the first Black Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, turned 90.
His birthday was celebrated in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, in the presence of his family and 150 invited guests, mostly close associates from the years of struggle against apartheid. The present Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, opened the proceedings by singing “Happy birthday”, which the former Archbishop and Nobel Peace Laureate from 1984, acknowledged, sitting in a wheelchair, next to Leah, his wife and partner of 65 years.
The Revd Dr Allan Boesak, who delivered the sermon, told the Archbishop: “You have seen it all. But you have always given us hope. You have always spoken to our hearts. And you are still speaking to us today through your life.”
Dr Boesak is a former president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and a long-time ally of the Archbishop in the 1980s, when they were the most prominent clergy to oppose the apartheid state. He based his sermon, rooted in Black theology, on Psalm 37, and used the thread of “But God had other plans” as a refrain throughout to point out how the Archbishop wayled the state’s plans for his life.
SABC NewsDr Allan Boesak gives the address
Dr Boesak said: “Psalm 37 begins with these words: ‘Do not fret because of the wicked’. . . The opening verses of this song are not didactic — they are, in fact, the confession of faith.”
He traced Desmond Tutu’s life from his birth in 1931, in Klerksdorp, in the then Western Transvaal. Dr Boesak called it “a dark place and a dark time for Black people in this country. The wicked were triumphant.”
He spoke of the stations of Archbishop Tutu’s life, and the way he rose above the constraints. His belief in God had guided him as a prominent church opponent of apartheid, despite attempts on his life.
Dr Boesak mentioned his key encounter, as a young man, with Fr Trevor Huddleston CR, who was a great influence on Archbishop Tutu’s life. He recounted, to laughter, how Huddleston had said: “The Church is asleep. But, every so often, it speaks in its sleep.” Archbishop Tutu had played a large part in “waking up” the South African churches to their prophetic role against injustice and oppression.
The sermon ended with a reference to Psalm 27.5: “‘I have been young and now I’m old.’ And I know that our struggles for justice, and freedom, and dignity, and all those struggles were never in vain, and they shall never be in vain. Because God is faithful, and God loves justice.
“So we hear you today. On this day, your birthday, Desmond Mpilo Tutu, son of the soil, bishop of the Church, shepherd of God’s people, brother to us all.” Mrs Tutu stood up to join in the ovation.