Bishop Tutu's Hopes and Fears

Despite anger and repression, he continues to see goodwill

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A. I am surprised that they do continue to listen, when I have absolutely nothing to show for asking them to be restrained, for saying it is possible that a more just society will come about, with a minimum of violence. I mean, it's all rhetoric. Can you imagine President Reagan speaking with the same equanimity if the fatalities here were white? Over 500 people have been killed. Virtually every day of the week someone gets killed.

You have to speak about the real anger among black people, anger that can become mindless. You see what they can do--burning people and so forth--and you want almost to abandon them. And then, at the same time, they still have an incredible sense of humor. You say something and they laugh. And even now there is no generalized hatred of whites. There is still a fantastic fund of goodwill. You would think that blacks would be saying that the best kind of white man is a dead white man. But you cannot sense any hostility toward whites. It is one of those paradoxes. This is one of the things that you would hopefully say to the State President: "All you need to do to unlock all that goodwill is to say you intend to dismantle apartheid, you are going to release unconditionally the people they acknowledge to be their leaders, you are going to sit down and talk with them, and you do have a specific program and plan."

At the moment [the country is] floundering around. You get a little piecemeal reform: the sex laws are repealed. It's like someone wanting to be praised because he's stopped beating his wife. It's crazy. It is not the height of my ambition in South Africa to cohabit with a white person. It's nonsense. Who introduced these laws in the first place? And now we must praise them because they've suddenly discovered they don't need these laws. Yet if the government said it was going to abolish apartheid laws one, two, three--the dramatic impact could change the mood.

Q. So where exactly does that leave the government?

A. They are in a Catch-22 position when they say they won't talk until the unrest has been quelled. The unrest is not going to be quelled because apartheid is there. Botha has everything to gain from talking to blacks, because he could be saying to the world, "Look, I'm talking to these horrible people who are always criticizing me and who are anti-South African." The world would say, "Yes, Botha is reasonable, he does talk to his critics." We would have lost. I would be losing out too, because even to say I am willing to talk to him would lead many in the black community to say, "Tutu's selling out."

Q. Does that mean you can't continue to offer to talk?

A. I am not a politician. My paradigm comes from the Scriptures. I say to the government that it cannot prescribe to me what I preach. Equally, no one in the black community can prescribe to me what I should do. I'm not in this game for personal kudos. I wish I weren't in the game at all. I have to follow biblical paradigms: prophets go on talking to kings; Moses goes to Pharaoh, even when he is told that Pharaoh is going to harden his heart. But he goes.

Q. Why do you want to talk to General Johann Coetzee, the police commissioner?

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