Now, at 86, the City of Cape Town has honoured Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu for his role in attaining freedom for South Africa. The city unveiled an arch yesterday to mark his contribution to freedom and justice and to celebrate his birthday.
Framed by Cape Town’s historic Goverment Avenue near St George’s Cathedral and Parliament, the arch is also symbolic of his dedication to humanity, as it would be shared by many over the next decades.
As he was wheeled in a golf cart to sit under the arch, Tutu smiled and chuckled when a crowd greeted him. He made dance moves with his arms as a choir sang and some in the crowd ululated.
The moment belonged to him, his family and his wife, Leah, and he enjoyed it.
“This is for your role in attaining our freedom and along with Mama Leah, for being a beacon of hope and a light that illuminated with compassion through the dark days of our unjust past,” said Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille, shortly after helping Tutu cut the ribbon.
“You have been blessed with another year but it we who have been truly blessed to have you with us and for continuing to be a shining light in what are very trying times for our country,” she said.
The Arch for the Arch, representing the 14 chapters of the constitution, should be a reminder to all about the path to attaining freedom and to uphold the values contained therein, she added.
De Lille said the Arch personified the values of the constitution, adding that Tutu’s wisdom and moral guidance “continues to inspire us and will do so for generations to come”.
Tutu’s contribution to South Africa’s freedom and justice spans many decades.
In paying tribute to Tutu, cleric Dr Allan Boesak, who worked with him while both were members of the South African Council of Churches, said South Africans should not only embrace his legacy but also the values that made up that legacy.
“When I first met him I saw the depth of compassion for people that he had and when we would visit desolate places where people were dumped during apartheid, he expressed solidarity with them in their suffering.
“He would stay in some of those places overnight. His commitment and compassion remained the same, whether he was speaking on behalf of Palestinians, women or the LGBTI community.”
Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba sent a birthday message from Canterbury, UK, where he was attending a meeting.
He recalled Tutu’s appearance at a rally in Soweto just after he had won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize.
“Standing among the youth dancing the toyi-toyi and seeing the then-bishop Tutu shining out amidst the crowd in his long purple cassock, I realised anew the relevance of the church to angry young people in the midst of pain and struggle.”
For former Truth And Reconciliation team member and chairman of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, Dumisa Ntsebeza, Tutu’s commitment to the Christian faith would always be etched in his mind.
“It did not matter how many times you would step into his office in a day, whether it was for advice or seeking his sanction, his first words were, ‘Let’s pray’, and this prayer sometimes was for blessing Africa and its people.”
De Lille said: “May all who walk past the arch be reminded that, as South Africans, it is all of our duty to work in unity for the greater good and to build the country.”