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From our archives: Desmond Tutu in 1992, a critical time in South Africa

27 December 2021


Dr Desmond Tutu at the funeral of the victims of the Boipatong massacre, Transvaal, in June 1992. The attackers were supporters of the Inkatha Freedom Party, rivals to the dominant African National Congress

Dr Desmond Tutu at the funeral of the victims of the Boipatong massacre, Transvaal, in June 1992. The attackers were supporters of the Inkatha Freedom...

In September 1992, South Africa’s future was still in the balance. Nelson Mandela had been out of prison for 20 months, but the first democratic elections with universal suffrage were still 19 months away. Impatience with President F. W. de Klerk, along with the manoeuvring of various political factions, had led to outbreaks of violence, as the way forward to a post-apartheid state remained unclear. Dr Desmond Tutu spoke about his concerns to Hennie Serfontein, then the Church Times’s South Africa correspondent:


GOD LOVES South Africa; he loves all South Africans; and we wonder why we are so stupid as not to realise that we are all members of his family. We have constantly been saying that there will be no peace, no progress, no prosperity in South Africa until all of us feel secure, until all of us feel a part of the decision-making process, until all of us are truly citizens of South Africa.

God has a plan. But when we frustrate it, he does not give up his plan. He adjusts it to accommodate our stupidity, our resistance, our evil, in an incredible way. Perhaps something horrendous and evil can in God’s purpose be transformed and bring good.

Take Boipatong [where 45 black South Africans were killed in June 1992 by political rivals, thought to be with security-force connivance, though this was later disproved]. The role of the police and the security forces is coming out into the open more and more. We will have these disclosures, these revelations, and we can have a purge. It would probably not have happened if Boipatong had not taken place.

It is becoming more and more obvious that this violence is not something that is happening in the black community because we are inherently violent. You see violence that is being fomented.

God does not give up. God is like an artist who struggles with the material. Sometimes the material is recalcitrant. Sometimes the material bends to the will of the painter or the sculptor. It is exciting how we become partners with God in this exhilarating business of trying to ensure that good will come even out of evil.

[Certain demands put to President De Klerk before the interview had been met.] Firstly, they have arrested a number of people for the Boipatong massacre. The Goldstone Commission into violence is investigating. We could thus say that one condition had been met. The demand for international monitoring has also been met. Concerning control at multi-party level of the security forces, I believe that De Klerk was right in saying that that was really a function of an interim government. I agree with him.

It is difficult to think that, given so many revelations, the President cannot understand what people feel about the security forces. He would accept, I think, that maybe up to February 1990 they were a political animal, which they should not have been. But he thinks that the fact that he then called in senior officers and told them from now on to operate only as apoliticals would mean the transformation had taken place. I mean, those guys had been formed in a particular culture, and it is not going to happen by the fiat of a state president that they will suddenly change attitudes.

It is strange that De Klerk is not able to see this. There is something very fundamentally wrong with the security forces. I said to him: “Your experience of the police is not that of a black person.” And yet he still grasps things which one is saying to him. I have to say that he is a nice person. And he appears to take seriously the things you present to him; although whether he then follows them up is something else.

He, too, can’t extricate himself from his community. I told him that I am the Archbishop of this Church, which has white, coloured, Asian and black members. Those are my people, that that is my flock, that is what I care for.

He said, well, he is actually also heading a party that is open to all races. I do not think he was saying it facetiously. He means it, in a way: that the National Party is like our Church.

He was serious. I like him. Maybe he is not getting the advice that he should.

In 1990, we were the only Church that said the African National Congress ought to end or suspend the armed struggle. That was not a very popular call. And we are still the only Church that has said none of its clergy could become card-carrying members of any particular group. To demonstrate our distance, we are able to say to the ANC what we find obnoxious in them; as we still say to the government. We see ourselves as agents of the Kingdom of God.

[In the constitutional discussions at that time, the Churches had rejected the idea that South Africa should be declared a Christian state.]

In many countries the constitution does not provide for a Christian state. Germany is such a country, and has a secular constitution . The USA has a secular constitution, with many other countries, and it works. It does not stop Christianity from being involved and from making an impact.

That is why it is important that we must not be given special privileges. The Christian faith must attract people by the goodness of its adherents, not because they are given special privileges by the state. Almost always, when that happens, it is at the cost of an unacceptable compromise of the principles of that religion.


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