By Basil Fernando
Archbishop Desmond Tutu who passed away this week will be counted among the great human beings who have contributed on the one hand for the great political transformation of his own country, and a person who has revolutionized the idea of achieving equality even under the most difficult circumstances. His great achievement together with his colleagues is linked to his ability to revive the moral universe as against the prevailing materialistic world outlook. He revived the idea of universality among human beings irrespective of color, creed or gender. Born and bred in one of the most repressive countries of his time, South Africa under the most brutal and dehumanized system of apartheid, he was among those who gave leadership to a great struggle to end such a discriminatory regime which ruled with the use of enormous violence. However, in that struggle and after the victory against apartheid, Desmond Tutu showed the capacity for embracing the enemy forces, developing the spaces for reconciliation, while at the same time restoring the dignity of the much humiliated people who were his own. The breadth of his vision was shown in the many roles he played during this time in his involvement in dealing with one of the most difficult problems which if not for interventions by him and his colleagues, would have led to one of the worst bloodbaths in the world. He and his colleagues managed such an enormous crisis with the depth of wisdom and courage, at the same time, with compassion and forgiveness.
Desmond Tutu is not just a South African figure. He brought his message to the global stage. A man gifted with enormous humor and oratorical skills, he brought the message of the universal values of humanity, transcending the limitations of color, creed, gender and all other forms of distinctions. His contribution to a practical understanding of the way to struggle for equality, liberty and fraternity within the modern global context will remain an example worthy of emulation of all those who resist the great deviance that besets the world at the moment. Desmond Tutu is not a mere figure reminding about the past. He is a man for the present and also for the future. Truly, he is a man for all times.
Desmond Tutu, by his own example, showed that human dignity does not belong to any particular race or color. By his own example, he showed that he could stand with any company, asserting his dignity and showing the capacity of his people to be no less than anyone else.
Among his many contributions, one of the greatest is the conceptualizing and the practice of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. While the righteous were justly demanding vengeance against the vanquished white minority for their unimaginable cruelties, he, supported by his colleagues, was able to demonstrate enormous wisdom in dealing with the vanquished enemy. To bring the vanquished also into the community of the nation and to ensure that they play their role within the nation while they express genuine regret for their despicable behavior in the past was an achievement that is quite unique to the world. Making that South African experience possible, Desmond Tutu played a great role.
In the last years of his life, he devoted his time to pursuing the cause of equality and the furtherance of understanding among people by way of him being seriously involved in promoting human rights throughout the world. He was the elder among the community of elders who constantly made interventions by expressing their views on world affairs.
The total impact of his life can be summed up through his intervention to revive the moral universe which is under threat everywhere. He brought his religious vision to the world not in a sectarian way but in a way that embraces all humanity and transcends all human weaknesses and limitations. As the world is today searching for solutions to problems that are normally perceived as beyond the human capacity, the example given by Desmond Tutu in resorting to the revival of the moral universe could be a guiding principle for everyone who pursues peace and a better future for humanity as a whole.