South Africa's Archbishop Tutu gladly leaves fight against apartheid to others

November 07, 1990|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who became a symbol of opposition to apartheid when most black political leaders were in exile or jail, says he is happy to take a back seat now that the political leaders are free.

The Anglican church leader, who was pictured regularly in the world press in the 1980s as he confronted white police authorities, chuckles as he remarks on "how infrequently now my name appears" in the news.

"We operated the way we did in order to give people space" when the church was the only route through which people could express political dissent, he said. "Our people didn't have space. Now they've got it."

The government has legalized political organizations that had been banned and is in the process of negotiating with black groups and leaders that were once suppressed.

But Archbishop Tutu believes that the churches still have a moral obligation to work toward peace in South Africa and to try to bring warring black factions together to talk with one another.

With that in mind, he issued an invitation last month for all major black leaders to meet at his official residence here to work on a plan for ending factional violence and a strategy for negotiations with the government of President F. W. de Klerk.

"We are concerned that our people are dying," he said in an interview in his office, where a large autographed picture of comedian Bill Cosby smiles on one wall. "We are concerned that our community is tearing itself apart. We are concerned that black leaders will probably be meeting for the first time around the negotiating table [with whites] and will be the ones who are struggling amongst themselves."

He said the churches, though playing a less prominent role, "can't sit on the sidelines with people dying, with people being traumatized in the kind of way that has been happening, without our doing anything or trying anything."

Hundreds of blacks have been killed in factional fighting this year, waged mostly between supporters of two political groups -- Nelson Mandela's African National Congress and Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party.

Archbishop Tutu issued his invitation to black leaders Oct. 17, saying that "the political leaders of blacks need to meet urgently to plan a joint strategy on negotiations . . . and to decide on how to handle the factional violence."

He said the church could host such a meeting because "we have no party political alignments," but Mr. Buthelezi immediately announced that he would not attend because the archbishop had given church support to ANC positions.

The church leader called Mr. Buthelezi's statement "a bit ridiculous" and said the church took positions it believed to be right, regardless of which political groups held the same positions.

This was the second meeting of black leaders that Mr. Buthelezi has refused to attend, after he spent months pleading for a one-on-one meeting between himself and Mr. Mandela to discuss the violence.

The ANC leader has rejected the idea of a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Buthelezi, who is strongly disliked by ANC supporters who say he has collaborated for many years with the white government. Mr. Buthelezi is chief executive of KwaZulu, one of 10 tribal homelands set up by the government as part of its apartheid scheme. He disputes the charge that he collaborated with the government, saying he has fought apartheid as KwaZulu leader.

Archbishop Tutu did not criticize Mr. Buthelezi directly but said that "the people are going to have to make their own judgment about those who are genuinely interested in bringing about an end to that violence and working for the unity of the black community."

The archbishop said black leaders should work out a common strategy for negotiations with the government "if that is possible" or "at least know ahead of time where the pitfalls are going to be."

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