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From our archives: Interview: Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town

by
27 December 2021

The Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Dr Desmond Tutu, who has died, aged 90, was interviewed on the back page of the Church Times in 2006

Alamy

I am feeling very well, and am currently in transit from New York. The cancer is back, and is being treated intermittently. An oncologist I saw last year in the States told me it was a good cancer. I cannot thank people enough for their love and prayers.


It is weird to read one’s biography.
It is rather like when I went to Madame Tussauds and saw a man walking up to me with a waxwork effigy of Desmond Tutu under his arm.


There is no peace for the wicked
, but when I look in the mirror I do not feel I look like someone who stirs up trouble or, as the biography calls me, a “rabble-rouser for peace”. The name came from Walter Sisulu’s wife, who always called me a rabble-rouser. [Sisulu was a well-known South African anti-apartheid activist who died in 2003.]


I do not think I am smart enough to write my autobiography.
John Allen has done a very good job with this book; I am still reading it, and I am blown away. I wanted it to be warts and all, and it is. It shows how have never been very smart with money.


I think I would have been too scared to be Archbishop of Canterbury, 
if I had been offered the job. But, on the other hand, I think when you are called to a place or position in life, God jolly well equips you to do it.


I have the highest regard for Rowan Williams.
Before the announcement of his appointment, I wrote a very supportive letter about him. It was probably the kiss of death for him to get my approval. He is head and shoulders above others in terms of theological acumen. But it is his nature to be accommodating, and the conservatives have not proved generous in return.


He must be more abrasive.
There must come a time [in the current debate on homosexuality] when we will have to draw a line in the sand which cannot be crossed, and say enough is enough.


We have lost the ability to boast about our comprehensiveness
 as a world Church we were incarnated as a true Catholicity. We coexisted in this untidy, rather lovable Church, from Baptists to Catholics, and I wish very very much we could recover that spirit.


No one characterises a family as exhibiting unanimity.
But the Church should demonstrate the inclusive relationships that our Lord showed us.


I have a deep sadness that we should be expending so much energy on this issue.
There is a world out there facing enormous, devastating problems AIDS, poverty, and more. These are the things we should be focusing on.


People say, “There is an institution that spends so much time navel-gazing.”
I think it is worse than the man who passed by on the other side in the parable of the Good Samaritan.


During the anti-apartheid era, I did receive death threats.
 I’m afraid it was par for the course. But what incensed me was that people would phone our home, aware that the phone would be picked up by our children. I used to watch as the children crumpled, taking another of those calls. “We will kill your father,” they used to say. It was just dastardly to get at me through them and my wife Leah. They had not chosen to fight: it was me.


I adore my family, my wife, my four children, and seven grandchildren.
I am at my happiest when I am with them. I have just been with my newest granddaughter, and I look at that precious miracle and think what it must be like to be God. It is so important to remember we are loved by God, not because we deserve it, but simply because we exist.


There was a time when we held a premature funeral service
at one of our church buildings in Bloemfontein. I had received two separate death threats, one of which we took very seriously. Anglicans and Lutherans shared the building, and on the eve of the deadline of these threats, I was committed into the hands of God. But I refused to get worked up about it all as I was doing God’s work.


The most inspiring person in my life has been my mum.
She was an incredible human being. She died just after I won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. She was senile at this point; so I do not know if it registered.


People comment on my sense of humour and my laugh including the Dalai Lama, whom I have known for many years.
But part of it, I think, is that I have always had people to prick my bubble that is a great leveller. My children used to tell me what good sermons I preached. But when I asked them what one was about, they simply replied: “It was short.”


As a child, I loved to read
, particularly Tales from Shakespeare and Aesop’s Fables. There are so many things I would like to read now if I had the time. On my desk in Cape Town is a huge pile of books I have been sent by different people. I have always been struck by two books about South Africa: Trevor Huddleston’s book Naught for Your Comfort, and Alan Paton’s marvellous Cry, the Beloved Country.


In the Bible, I love the book of Jeremiah,
the fact that he cared so much and had a message to give. I can easily relate to him as a man who found it easy to laugh and easy to break down. Some of the passages are very moving.


I would love to get locked in a church with Augustine of Hippo.
He was such a massive influence on the Church. To some extent, I would like to talk to him about his attitude to human sexuality. It would be very interesting to chat with him about his sexual scrapes before he became Christian, and how it all related. I would love to hear his views about the current mess in the Anglican Communion.


Dr Tutu was talking to Rachel Harden.


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