Academy of Achievement Logo
Achiever Gallery
  The Arts
   + [ Public Service ]
  Science & Exploration
  My Role Model
  Recommended Books
  Academy Careers
Keys to Success
Achievement Podcasts
About the Academy
For Teachers

Search the site

Academy Careers


If you like Desmond Tutu's story, you might also like:
Benazir Bhutto,
Athol Fugard,
Mikhail Gorbachev,
Nadine Gordimer,
John Hume,
Coretta Scott King,
John R. Lewis,
Rosa Parks,
Shimon Peres,
Sidney Poitier,
Colin Powell,
Albie Sachs,
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,
Wole Soyinka,
Lech Walesa,
Oprah Winfrey,
Elie Wiesel and
Andrew Young

Desmond Tutu can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Related Links:
Tutu Foundation
Nobel Prize
S.A. History

Share This Page
  (Maximum 150 characters, 150 left)

Desmond Tutu
Desmond Tutu
Profile of Desmond Tutu Biography of Desmond Tutu Interview with Desmond Tutu Desmond Tutu Photo Gallery

Desmond Tutu Interview (page: 3 / 4)

Nobel Prize for Peace

Print Desmond Tutu Interview Print Interview

  Desmond Tutu

When you first began, you knew what you were trying to do, and you perhaps had some idea of what you thought it would take to achieve this goal. Now that the goal of ending apartheid and creating democracy in South Africa is achieved, what do you know now that you didn't know before?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: I have come to realize the extraordinary capacity for evil that all of us have because we have now heard the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and there have been revelations of horrendous atrocities that people have committed. Any and every one of us could have perpetrated those atrocities. The people who were perpetrators of the most gruesome things didn't have horns, didn't have tails. They were ordinary human beings like you and me. That's the one thing. Devastating! But the other, more exhilarating than anything that I have ever experienced -- and something I hadn't expected -- to discover that we have an extraordinary capacity for good. People who suffered untold misery, people who should have been riddled with bitterness, resentment and anger come to the Commission and exhibit an extraordinary magnanimity and nobility of spirit in their willingness to forgive, and to say, "Hah! Human beings actually are fundamentally good." Human beings are fundamentally good. The aberration, in fact, is the evil one, for God created us ultimately for God, for goodness, for laughter, for joy, for compassion, for caring.

When Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa in 1994, he appointed you Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Do you think that marks the beginning of a new South Africa?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Well, when in 1994 he was elected and I was given the privilege of introducing him to South Africa as our new president and to the world, I sort of whispered to God and said, "God, I don't really mind now. I mean, if I die now, it would be almost the perfect moment. This is the theme for which we had all been waiting for," and then a year or so after that, to be asked to preside over a process for trying to heal a traumatized and wounded people was just an unbelievable privilege, and it was an amazing, amazing experience where people of all races, not just black people, people of all races amazed the world with the exhibition of their magnanimity, their generosity of spirit, their willingness not to seek revenge and retribution, but to be willing to forgive. I mean forgive sometimes the most horrendous atrocities that had been committed against them. We would not be sitting here and speaking of a South Africa that is now celebrating 13 years of freedom I think if we had not had a process similar to the one that we engaged in.

It was not faultless. I mean, it couldn't have been perfect. It had its flaws, but it was a good thing to have happened for us to, and I said at one time it was like looking the beast of our past in the eyes, taking very serious account of what had happened, not pretending it hadn't happened, and to the extent that we could do anything about it, dealing with it in that fashion, and then saying we have dealt with a significant part of our past, we are now closing that chapter of our history, and we are turning a new page where we are going to try to walk together as a united people.

In the past, we were aware of alienation, oppression, and injustice. Now we want to demonstrate to the world that it is possible to become a rainbow nation, a nation of all races, of different cultures, of different religions, and say it is possible for such to cohere and become one nation.

Desmond Tutu Interview Photo
We are the only nation that has 11 official languages. We have a national anthem in which we sing in four languages. I think we are about the only nation in the world that has a polyglot anthem of that kind and with different tunes, as it were, trying to incorporate elements that were held in high regard by different sections of our community, so we have something that reminds us of the Africana. We sing in English, we sing in Xhosa, we sing in Sotho, we sing in Afrikaans, all in one national anthem, and yeah, it has been amazing, given where we come from. It has been amazing that we should have the kind of stability we have had.

We have got many problems, poverty, HIV/AIDS, crime, but anyway, you can say show me one nation in the world that has no problems and I will tell you of a fiction.

How do you see the situation in South Africa now? Do you see a conflict between the drive to attract investment, and at the same time repair the economic inequalities that have survived apartheid? Some have said the reparation process is being slowed down by economic considerations. What are you views on that?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: You can't put a money value to freedom. You know, people will frequently ask, "Have things changed in South Africa?" And in a sense, they haven't changed. I mean -- when you referred to the material things, which are quite important -- I mean, the people who lived in shacks in 1994, many of them still live in shacks. Those who were the affluent in the apartheid years have tended still to be the affluent. But you know, what money value do you put to being free? It's an incredibly difficult thing to describe to someone who has never been un-free, what it means now not to have shackles. It's almost like trying to describe a red rose to a blind man or to try to tell someone about the beauty of a Beethoven symphony and they're deaf.

Desmond Tutu Interview Photo
So a great deal has changed, but we in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said, "Watch it. You can kiss reconciliation and forgiveness goodbye, unless the gap between the rich and the poor -- the haves and the have-nots -- is narrowed, and narrowed quickly and dramatically."

So yes, we face very, very considerable problems. I used to be "Mister Disinvestment." Now I would like to be Mister Investment and say, "Come! Come and be part of an exciting, exhilarating process. Come in! Come in on the ground floor and see a people do something that's probably never happened before, people seeking to become something radically different from what their antecedents would have made us believe they were likely to become."

What was your reaction when you learned that you had won the Nobel Peace Prize?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: [Laughter.]. There's a fantastic feeling. A fantastic feeling. You -- I mean, elated. Elated because it made several points. It was saying our cause is noble. Our cause is nonviolent and you're saying you people who have been oppressed in South Africa the world is with you. You people, who have been oppressing them, watch out.

And then -- I mean, one of the points that the committee made was that the award was not a personal award. I was General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches at the time and they made it quite clear that really it was a corporate award. They gave it to me because I think it is usually better than giving it to an institution and I have an easy name. You know what I mean, Tutu. Every -- any European can say -- any American can say Tutu. Whereas if, I mean, I had been something like Matashavalla that might have made it a little more difficult. So -- and you see it's an incredible thing. You say something before you get the Nobel Peace Prize. You say something. You get the Nobel Peace Prize and you say the same thing that you said before you got the prize and now everybody thinks, "Oh, dear, the oracle has spoken."

And, it opened doors which was important for our people. It was important for our people at that point in our history because we were tending to go off the radar screen and this brought us back spectacularly. I had been trying -- and it happens I was trying to have an interview with President Reagan and they weren't particularly interested in seeing me. As soon as I got the Nobel Peace Prize, I didn't do anything and I got word, "The President is inviting you to the White House with Mrs. Tutu." So, I was able to meet with him and to say the things that I wanted to say on behalf of our people face-to-face. So, it was a fantastic -- it was a fantastic thing. I was in New York at the time. In the extraordinary kinds of ways that God works. See the South African Government had prevented me coming the previous year. They had taken away my passport and then allowed me to come in 1984. And you couldn't have had a better place in a sense for the thing to be announced so that it had maximum impact. I mean, New York. If you wanted -- if they had asked me where do you want to be when they announce the Nobel Prize, I couldn't have chosen a better spot but they are very meticulous, these people, and very, very careful.

We got word that somebody was -- my aide -- I was at a seminary, a general theological seminary and he got word from the Norwegian Ambassador to the United Nations who he said asked him whether I would be there the following day, which is I think the 10th of October when the announcement is usually made. And, I said to my wife, "I don't think they usually want to come and tell you, you have not got the Nobel Peace Prize. Why should he want to know where I will be tomorrow?" And it was the most awful thing to have been told, you know, because try as we might to be indifferent, it was a lie. I mean, you were not -- certainly I wasn't indifferent. In many ways I wanted to have got the prize for the reasons that I -- and also just for personal reasons. I mean, yeah, it's nice to be a Nobel Laureate. And my wife and I, poor things, we had one of the most awful nights that I could ever remember and I got up early, usually I went for a jog. I was this -- the professor who was looking after me said, "I'm sorry, don't go out today. Don't go out because the press was camped outside the seminary." And then somebody said, "The Ambassador is arriving and he is carrying flowers." But, I say I don't -- I don't think they usually come with bouquets to come and tell you, "Look here, sorry, I mean you have not got the Nobel Peace Prize." My poor wife and I tried to be as indifferent as you could have ever imagined and then his Excellency came and knocked on the door of the apartment and greeted us and said, "Good morning." And it was about, I think, 10:00 o'clock or so, and he said, "Well, at this time in Oslo they are announcing now that you are the Nobel Peace Prize winner for 1984." And again, I mean, you are not quite sure. You pinch yourself. Is this a dream? You're going to wake up and discover you were imagining all of this, yeah.

Desmond Tutu Interview, Page: 1   2   3   4   

This page last revised on Aug 19, 2009 15:04 EDT
How To Cite This Page