Archbishop Tutu with media at St George’s Cathedral discussing SA’s 20 years of freedom – 23 April 2014
“Freedom is not something to take for granted”
Speaking on the eve of the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic election, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said apartheid-free South Africa had much to celebrate. Asked how he felt when he voted for the first time, he responded: “How do you feel when you fall in love?”
Archbishop Tutu agreed to field questions from journalists after receiving more than 100 requests for interviews about his thoughts on South Africa’s progress over the past 20 years.
He said the fact that the country was celebrating 20 years of democracy was “a heck of an achievement” considering the violence that characterised the build-up to the historic 27 April 1994 poll.
He paid tribute to the generation of leaders led by Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and OR Tambo, the stewards of South Africa’s peaceful transition. And he paid tribute to the government for delivering services to the people, including water, electricity and social grants. And, for passing into law one of the world’s best Constitutions.
But he advised voters to think very carefully – and pray deeply – before they cast their ballots on 7 May 2014. And he repeated statements he has made since the government turned down a visa for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in 2011, that he would “with a heavy heart” not be voting for the ANC next month.
In response to repeated probing about his opinion of the ANC, Archbishop Tutu said he had never been a member of any political party, but had supported the ANC because it most closely approximated his dream for a more compassionate and equitable society. Sadly, the leadership that followed President Mandela had failed to fill his shoes. Perhaps it was unfair to have expected anyone to have been able to do so, he said.
“We have a wonderful country and fantastic people. Nobody should be going to bed hungry. It’s a disgrace. We shouldn’t read stories of child falling into a pit latrine. It’s a disgrace.”
Archbishop Tutu reserved his most stinging criticism for the manner in which the government that followed President Mandela’s had “sabotaged” the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he chaired. Had government instituted the once-off wealth tax recommended by the commission, South Africa would not today be dealing with the consequences of the world’s biggest gap between rich and poor citizens. The payment of reparations had been tardy and paltry. The lack of follow–through with regard to prosecuting perpetrators of human rights violations was a disgrace. This would not have happened had President Mandela been able to serve a second term, he said.
“I pray that after May 7 we will all walk tall,” Archbishop Tutu said.