Bishop Tutu's Hopes and Fears

Despite anger and repression, he continues to see goodwill

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At St. Alban's Church, the seat of the Anglican diocese of Johannesburg, it was time for the morning prayer meeting. In the boardroom, the staff had assembled, about 20 men and women, black and white. At precisely 9 a.m. Bishop Desmond Tutu arrived. "Good morning, Baba (Father), " said members of the group. "A little more enthusiasm, please, " the bishop replied with a smile, and the group obliged. Then he pulled up a chair and began the day's lesson. It was drawn from Acts 21: 27-39, the story of Paul being taken into protective custody by Roman soldiers to shelter him from a Jerusalem mob. Tutu smiled thinly. When the prayer meeting was over, the bishop leaned forward to tell his staff about the previous afternoon at Daveyton. He said that during the funeral he had heard a joke about Louis Le Grange, South Africa's Minister of Law and Order, telling State President P.W. Botha that Bishop Tutu had committed suicide. Botha's astonished reply: "I didn't know you had detained him. "

Becoming serious again, Tutu spoke once more of the scene at Daveyton. "I am scared, " he said, shaking his head for emphasis. "I am really scared. I have never seen anything like the scene yesterday. We are building up an incredible legacy of hatred. I cannot be at all the funerals, and one just does not know what is going to happen at future funerals. How long can we restrain the people? I have just got to believe that God is around. That is the only hope. If he is not, we have had it. We are going to have to do a lot of praying." Following the meeting, Tutu spoke with TIME International Editor Karsten Prager and Johannesburg Bureau Chief Bruce Nelan. Excerpts:

Q. How would you describe the situation this week as compared to last?

A. Things have been exacerbated very considerably by the state of emergency and by the detention of those whom the people regard as their leaders. The police and the South African Defense Force have been put into an incredibly awkward position in that they are not seen as agents for maintaining law-and-order but as protectors of an unjust system. In the consumer boycott in the eastern Cape, for instance, there are very strong indications that the police are harassing black traders, trying to break this boycott. We really are on the edge of a precipice. It would take nothing, nothing really, to push us over.

Q. You said you hoped God was around. It sounded like a cry of despair. Does that characterize your state of mind today?

A. No, it's just that I'm human. And I hold on, and often only by the skin of my teeth, to believe that God is in charge of his world, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, and there are often too many appearances to the contrary. Like any ordinary human being, I also reach the end of my tether. I can only be rescued from that by the fact that so many care around the world and pray for us. But the level of repression and evil in this country is incredible, and the suffering that our people are exposed to is more than I can take. I am amazed at their patience.

Q. Is their patience running out, and can you still control them?

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