The following Friday, however, I experienced something far different. It was Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's 80th Birthday Celebration and I was able to get tickets because the organization I volunteer for has close ties to Tutu. Reflecting on the 2.5+ hour experience I realize that I felt as alienated from Africa as I had in America, but also the most African I have felt since I have been here. I didn't feel African in the sense that so many famous people were there. Bono from U2 and the Deputy President of RSA, Kgalema Motlanthe were just a few of the VIP's who shared in the celebrations. The Sowetan Gospel Choir and sang and performed various tribal dances to bongo drums as well. The keynote speaker, I fail to remember his name he was the predecessor to Tutu, was thirty minutes late to when he was supposed to speak. Typical African time.
I didn't take my camera so I don't have any pictures to share but we had great seats in the balcony overlooking the altar and it was awesome. Currently, the government is facing extreme pressure from the people. It just passed what has popularly been dubbed the "Secrecy Bill." In this bill it makes it illegal for the media to report on whisteblowers to the public. Pretty much if you find out about corruption and report it, the government can fine you and throw you in jail for a maximum of five years. Another key guest that was supposed to be at Tutu's celebration was the Dalai Lama. He was supposed to give public lectures at venues such as Stellenboch University, receive peace awards, and speak at the Desmond Tutu Center for Peace. None of this happened because the South African government refused to issue the Dalai Lama a visa. Someone familiar with international relations can probably guess why; the Dalai Lama represents the thought of independence for the nation of Tibet who is at this moment being grossly prosecuted by China. Because South Africa relies on economical relations with China, having relations with the Dalai Lama (who represents Tibet) threatens that economic security. That is a risk that South Africa is not willing to take. So they delayed the visa and forced him to cancel his visit.
Now I am convinced that as Tutu's body gets weaker, his spirit gets stronger. He ranted against the government, telling (President) Zuma that the government did not represent him. Tutu even went against his own political party, the ANC, saying that he prayed for their downfall. He warned that misrepresenting the interests of the people would not keep them in power for much longer. Of course the government tried to find rational reasons for the irrational action of refusing a peaceful man entrance into their country. The government responded to Tutu by making excuses for his old age and that his anger got the best of him. It is so heartbreaking, even to a foreigner, that a man who did so much for his country is not listened to by his government. Apparently old age makes men more apt to anger and thus they should not be taken seriously. The government of South Africa needs prayer because this country is moving backwards. Tutu even went so far as to say that the ANC government currently in power is worse than the apartheid government. "At least we knew to expect it from them," he stated. And it is true, apartheid was terrible but at least the government made what it was doing legal. They were bold enough to try and justify their actions. This current government is hiding behind loopholes and pointing fingers rather than trying to take steps forward in this young democracy. When you refuse someone like the Dalai Lama into your country and make it illegal for journalists to report on corruption in your government it certainly doesn't sound like a country progressing in the advancement of liberties for its peoples that it openly proclaims it protects
All these things considered, the celebration was truly one of unity. It was moving and there were tears from many natives and a feeling that there is still hope for this country. The Deputy President and Tutu, who were enemies in the press in the weeks before were able to genuinely smile and laugh with one another. I believe Tutu has made his point and is willing to humble himself. I learned a lot from him and it goes back to something I learned from my dad as a kid. Sometimes even when you're right, you're wrong. He has done what he can, furthermore he is in the right and he knows it. But rather than pressing his point (which through all stubbornness the government would allow themselves to be destroyed rather than concede they were wrong) Tutu humbled himself. He is truly an amazing man and I learned a lot in sharing his birthday with him.
One last thing that worries me, South Africa needs a hero. A new one. Nelson Mandela is 93 years old and suffering from Alzheimer Syndrome. He can't have a lot of time left. Desmond Tutu just turned 80 and is in outstanding shape, but his time has passed. The heroes from the days of apartheid are fading and the country needs a leader that it can stand behind. Right now there isn't one. It has been strong men like Chief Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have kept this nation together for the past almost 20 years. I am afraid that the Secrecy Bill and treatment of the Dalai Lama may just be the continued trend of this country's downward spiral. I hope not. But who in this country is going to step up and say enough is enough to the government? Pray for South Africa.