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EDITORIAL: One of history’s best known defender of human rights and champion of peace, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, died Sunday at age 90. He was suffering from prostate cancer but this ‘certain death’ did not steal the smile from his face. All his life Tutu struggled hard, exhorting the South African government to end apartheid which was the official policy of racial segregation. And he did succeed in his peaceful mission, earning the epithet ‘Moral Compass of South Africa’. As he came on the scene, as son of a teacher father and domestic worker mother, South Africa was in total possession of the whites who were not more than one-fourth of the population but controlled 80 percent of the country’s rich land and diamond mines. The natives, particularly the Zulu tribesmen, had fought against the white colonialists but did not succeed in toppling the regime – as they had to contend with not only the white minority, but also the immigrants from Sub-Continent including Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who recruited fighters to join the white forces. The 1960s and 1970s constituted tumultuous times in South Africa. In March 1960, 69 people were killed in the Sharpeville Massacre as Nelson Mandela was arrested, tried and sentenced to life in prison. In 1976, at least 170 people were killed, though some estimates put the death toll at several hundred following the Soweto uprising. But as the natives’ rejection of apartheid policy persisted and drenched in blood as it was, the international community weighed in against the South African government. South Africa was excluded from the Olympics, expelled from the United Nations and put under arms embargoes. And the softly-paddled anti-apartheid campaign of Desmond Tutu bore fruit. Newly-elected white President F. W. de Klerk replaced P.W. Botha in 1989 and started working with Nelson Mandela, who had been released from prison, for a multiracial government.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu had always lamented that “this land, richly endowed in so many ways, is sadly lacking in justice”. In 1995, the then head of state, Nelson Mandela, appointed Tutu as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the human rights violations of the apartheid years. To Desmond Tutu, the new South Africa was a “Rainbow Nation”. He pardoned those who admitted their guilt and sought forgiveness, an action which earned him some criticism, but he rebutted his detractors, arguing that the said commission is to dole out “restorative” justice and not “retributive” justice. He won Nobel Peace Prize of 1984. The world has paid rich tributes to Tutu. South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has described him as a man of “extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid”. Former US president Barack Obama has termed Tutu “a towering figure and a moral compass”. According to President Joe Biden, Tutu’s “legacy transcends borders and will echo throughout the ages”. And in Pakistan, for the fiercely contending political leaderships the cause of the Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission rings a special message: ‘Forget the past and reconcile’. Prime Minister Imran Khan rightly believes that Tutu’s “critical role in liberation and national reconciliation is an inspiration for future generations”. Unfortunately, however, our politics remains mired in settling scores, nurturing vendettas and bidding disappearance of opponents into thin air. It is about time we turned the page on our past and wrote a poem of hope, love and national reconciliation.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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