- An exhibition on the life of the late Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu opens in Cape Town on Friday.
- The exhibit not only celebrates his life with his beloved wife, Leah, but shows the weight of the times they and millions of South Africans survived.
- The foundation on their behalf hopes the collection of photographs, memorabilia and video footage will inspire ethical leadership.
A thin voice pierces the air in one of the rooms of a multimedia exhibition on the life of the late Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu at Cape Town’s Old Granary in Buitenkant Street.
It’s hard not to get angry when the official from the apartheid regime explains why he thinks black people will take many years to ‘develop’ into ‘civilized human beings’.
At the time, Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah, were schoolteachers – he had followed in his father’s footsteps.
They were so appalled by the apartheid government’s Bantu education policy that they resigned unwilling to participate in the system that pre-determined black people should not progress significantly in society.
The exhibition, Truth To Power: Desmond Tutu and the Churches in the Struggle Against Apartheid, not only shows the painful journey of the Tutus, but also the story of a shameful period in the history of South Africa and resistance to the ruthless oppression of the apartheid authorities.
Curated with the Apartheid Museum, precious family photographs provide a soft entry into the exhibition to show Desmond and Leah “side by side” in their remarkable life together.
READ | The world is different because of Tutu, says Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
But the voices in the looping documentaries of the formative years of the man who would receive the Nobel Peace Prize, describe the hateful politics of society in which the Tutus and millions of others found themselves.
There are photographs of his journey as an Anglican priest, becoming dean of St Mary’s in Johannesburg, but unable to live in the dean’s residence due to apartheid, so living in Soweto instead. Video footage shows Leah’s role in establishing a union for domestic workers; there are photographs of the Tutus with their children in England where he trained as a priest.
Another photograph shows Tutu looking slightly uncomfortable on the horse he had to learn to ride to reach outlying churches during a mission in Lesotho.
Before long, the visitor is caught up in the details of some of the horrors of a South Africa that current generations will only learn of in snippets from history books, or perhaps in the company of older family members. who survived that time.
Part of the poster collection during the campaign to boycott South African products.
Repeated mass shootings and murders by the apartheid government were so frequent that the names of thousands of dead are written on a wall in a room with dim lighting to provide privacy for relatives who come to collect a name.
The list goes on and on and only contains the names of the people whose lives and final moments were the subject of the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Tutu. Sometimes the testimony was so terrible that he would break down and cry.
Massacre after massacre took place in South Africa, with Tutu and other clerics having to speak words of comfort and hope that apartheid would end at the funeral.
He bore the brunt of the Soweto massacre, Sharpeville and the murder of the Cradock Four as part of his calling as he attended funerals in the dust kicked up by thousands of mourners.
An animated cartoon by Jonathan “Zapiro” Shapiro (Jenni Evans)
Other clergymen like Allan Boesak were increasingly drawn to unspeakable grief and growing anger.
An interview with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is also shown, where, in the soft voice of youth, she calls the 1976 Soweto shootings a national disaster.
Open notebooks on display show Tutu’s thoughts in large cursive, carefully typed letters for justice and an end to apartheid.
In one clip, he is shown calming an angry crowd to enable the rescue of a person who was about to be set on fire in a car as the apartheid government created suspicion with its Stratcom d spying, lies and misinformation.
Tutu’s call for sanctions against South Africa is documented in another exhibit and reflects the current stance of many countries against the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine, and shows Tutu’s dismay at ambivalent countries.
Tutu’s warning to the apartheid government before the killing of protesters on June 16, 1976 (Jenni Evans)
Her relationship with former President Nelson Mandela and her eventual criticism of the ANC are also addressed in the exhibit, as is her relationship with the Dalai Lama.
The heaviness of what he and his wife had to carry is eased by the loan of ZA News puppets of Tutu and Mandela having tea, a collection of children’s books about his life lessons, a replica of the Nobel medallion he received and protest art of the time.
One of the images at the end of the exhibit shows Tutu walking through the maze of St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, going back and forth, facing the world from different angles as the maze progresses, to better understand the issues.
But it’s the crisp little cherry Anglican priest’s cassock that stands out in one of the rooms. Freshly washed for display after her death on December 26, her size belies Tutu’s stature around the world and in South Africa.
In a statement, the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation said the purpose of the exhibit was to celebrate the bravery and uncompromising values of its founders, and to inspire ethical leadership.
It is believed to be the only permanent exhibit devoted solely to Tutu.
Foundation President Niclas Kjellström-Matseke said:
We must have the courage to speak out against injustice, just as l’Arche did. In South Africa, we are witnessing deeply troubling trends, such as the resurgence of xenophobia, attacks on whistleblowers, as well as a relentless assault on our democracy due to rampant corruption.
“We are also living in unprecedented times where a pandemic has exposed the deep inequalities that continue to plague our global landscape,” Kjellström-Matseke said.
“Our young democracy has not had a chance to fully heal. Healing is not an act of turning a blind eye to problems, but of recognizing them and facing them constructively and peacefully. Healing requires introspection, it forces us to learn from the past so we don’t make the same mistakes. Learning is part of healing and that’s part of what this exhibit hopes to do,” he added.
The exhibition is open from Friday. Hours are Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (closed on public holidays). The cost is R50 for adults, R25 for pensioners and students, and for children under 12 there is no charge.
* News24 was a guest of the foundation at the time of the preview.
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