Bishop Tutu and conservative Congressmen join the protest
His voice was resonant, his accent lilting, his demeanor disarmingly gentle. But his words carried a sting. "We do not want our chains comfortable," South Africa's Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa. "We want them removed." The black clergyman, who will travel to Oslo this week to accept the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, assailed the U.S. policy of "constructive engagement" with South Africa as "immoral, evil and totally un-Christian." "We shall be free," he declared. "And we shall remember who helped us become free." Breaking their own rules, the subcommittee members gave Tutu a standing ovation.
The bishop, 53, was at the center of a sudden escalation of protests in the U.S. last week directed at South Africa's government and Washington's relations with it. Tutu's tour culminated Friday morning in the Oval Office, where President Reagan defended his policy of using "quiet diplomacy" to prompt reforms of South Africa's repressive policies. At a press conference afterward, Reagan said South Africa's policies were "repugnant" and insisted that "we have made sizable progress in persuading the South African government to make changes." Tutu was not convinced. "There may have been some effects," the bishop said dryly about U.S. policy, "but none that the victims of apartheid can see." Reagan's approach, he insisted, had "worsened the situation of South African blacks."
The main impact of Tutu's tour was the note of moral dignity it gave to the rising protests in the U.S. "When the missionaries first came to Africa," he told a celebrity-studded audience at New York's Waldorf-Astoria, "they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land." After the laughter, Tutu switched moods. "Where is the anger?" he asked, referring to the U.S. Government. "Constructive engagement is an abomination, an unmitigated disaster."
The current surge of protest activity began Thanksgiving week with the arrest of four prominent black leaders at the South African embassy in Washington. Since then the demonstrations have spread to eight cities and are expected to attract larger rallies at planned events this week. They have had a revivalist, 1960s civil rights tone, as black activists joined white liberal politicians, labor leaders and clergymen in crossing police lines to be arrested. By week's end 31 demonstrators, selected for their symbolic value, had been arrested in the daily rallies outside the embassy.