South Africa: Can the ANC finish Archbishop Tutu’s work to end racial inequality?

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Posted on Monday, 3 January 2022 19:15

Archbishop Desmond Tutu gestures at the launch of a human rights campaign marking the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Archbishop Desmond Tutu gestures at the launch of a human rights campaign marking the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , December 10, 2007. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

The death of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu has revived a bitter debate in South Africa about the failures of the African National Congress (ANC)- led government to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the direction the Southern African nation is heading with its widely spread racial inequalities.

Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his fight against the white minority rule, died on 26 December 2021 at the age of 90 in Cape Town, after battling prostate cancer for a long time.

“Archbishop Tutu was a courageous man who spoke against racial inequalities during the apartheid era when it was not fashionable to do so,” Thabo Mtheka, a Pretoria resident tells The Africa Report. “He was a man of God and a nation builder.”

‘Justice for apartheid victims yet to prevail’

After apartheid ended in 1994, and Nelson Mandela took over from the white minority government, Tutu was appointed as the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was mandated to investigate the atrocities committed during the apartheid era.

Chairman of the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) Archbishop Desmond Tutu hands over the commission’s report to South Africa’s then President Nelson Mandela at the State theater Building in Pretoria October 29, 1998. (Peter Andrews – Reuters)

Tutu became popular for his role in unearthing some of the apartheid-era secrets by giving victims a platform to speak. He even broke into tears, sympathising with the victims during their testimonies.

The TRC’s historic report, released in 2003, recommended that law enforcement agencies investigate several hundred apartheid cases for possible criminal charges.

However, many people who committed atrocities during the apartheid era refused to testify to the commissioners, while some were denied amnesty, as the TRC had the power to grant amnesty to some perpetrators who confessed to their crimes.

I will remember Archbishop Tutu for having forced the iconic freedom fighter, Mama Winnie, to apologise for the murder of [Stompie] Seipei.

The ANC regime, as per the commission’s recommendations, has yet to hold to account most of the perpetrators of different crimes, including murder and torture, which were committed during apartheid.

“The perpetrators of apartheid who confessed were not supposed to be given amnesty. Justice should have prevailed. Imagine how those who lost their families to murderers are feeling to date,” says Bongani Nkosi, who stays in Johannesburg.

Most South Africans believe Tutu had a hand in ‘destroying’ anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

“I will remember Archbishop Tutu for having forced the iconic freedom fighter, Mama Winnie, to apologise for the murder of [Stompie] Seipei,” says Dumisani Nhlanhla, a student from Pretoria. “Yet, she had not committed such a crime.”

Seipei, who was a South African teenager, was murdered in 1989 after he was kidnapped – with two other boys – by Madikizela-Mandela’s gang.

A hard balancing act

However, Professor Theodor Neethling, from the department of political studies and governance at the University of Free State, says Archbishop Tutu had to deal with perpetrators from both sides and revenge was not the solution, but reconciliation.

“He had to deal with both Pieter Willem Botha and  Madikizela-Mandela. This required an evenhandedness in a deeply divided situation and in a country that needed reconciliation and not revenge and hate,” he tells The Africa Report.

“Over and above, I believe Tutu did a lot to pursue reconciliation post-1994 in what he dubbed the rainbow nation. For this, South Africans should be grateful and the role that he played was a most remarkable one.”

Professor Jo-Ansie van Wyk, from the department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa, says the TRC had no mandate to institute punitive measures or award reparations and this was left in the hands of the ANC-led government that “dragged its feet to achieve this”.

Will the ANC government complete the job?

The million-dollar question, since Mandela and Tutu have passed on, is whether President Cyril Ramaphosa will be able to end South Africa’s on-going wide racial inequalities.

Steven Gish, professor of history at Auburn University at Montgomery in the United States and author of Desmond Tutu: A Biography says, in Archbishop Tutu’s view, that the TRC exposed many apartheid-era crimes and enabled many victims to tell their stories. However, Gish says Tutu was disappointed that the new democratic government did not provide adequate monetary reparations to the victims on the scale that the TRC had advocated.

“In order to regain the peoples’ trust, the ANC government needs to root out corruption and focus on job creation and poverty reduction. The country’s electricity grid and educational system need to be improved quickly,” he tells The Africa Report.

Root out corruption, build sensible economic policies, grow the tax base, educate properly and provide security of land tenure to those who continue to live under insecure regimes.

“Because a disproportionate share of South Africa’s tax revenue and contracts goes into the pockets of government officials, I do not see the current government implementing the recommendations of the TRC, at least in terms of reparations. Unless it shifts course and puts the needs of ordinary citizens first, the ANC government will not end inequality in South Africa.”

Ross Harvey, director of research and programmes at Good Governance Africa, says the ANC government should work to serve the citizens whose lives depend on good governance. “Root out corruption, build sensible economic policies, grow the tax base, educate properly and provide security of land tenure to those who continue to live under insecure regimes.”

A week of mourning

South Africa spent a week mourning Tutu, affectionately known as The Arch, with flags in the country and at their embassies abroad flying at half-mast.

People of different ethnic backgrounds came to Cape Town’s St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town on Thursday 30 December and Friday 31 December, where Tutu’s body lay in state, to pay their last respects.

Even though the State funeral was held on January 1 this year at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, presided by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, there were other memorial services that took place in different cities, including Johannesburg and Pretoria, during the one week of mourning.

In honour of Archbishop Tutu, the bells of Cape Town’s St George’s Cathedral tolled for 10 minutes a day daily at noon, from 27 December to 31 December 2021.

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