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SA sits on a powder keg – Tutu

Resource type: News

Cape Argus (South Africa) |


Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu has warned that South Africa remains perched on a powder keg of inequality as a result of the gap between rich and poor.

Delivering the keynote |address at the first international Chief of Chaplains Conference taking place in Cape Town this week, Tutu lamented the fact that after 15 years of the dawn of democracy, poverty remained rife.

“South Africa had been so devastated by apartheid that it qualified for some kind of a Marshall Plan.

“Europe didn’t just rise from the ashes on its own, it was assisted very generously by the United States,” he said.

But the South African government had been loath to consider remedies such as public works or even a special once-off wealth tax, lest it be labelled as a socialist government.

“It would have made a heck of a difference,” Tutu said, reminding the audience of more than 120 religious leaders from the defence forces of more than 50 countries that one of the fundamental conclusions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had been that the gap between rich and poor should be closed “as quickly as possible, or we can kiss reconciliation goodbye”.

Asked what advice he had for newly installed US President Barack Obama, Tutu joked that he should come down hard on leaders – especially African leaders – as he could not be labelled a neo-colonialist.

As someone who is half-African, he could tell them |that he wanted to see them succeed, while reminding them that they could not succeed if they remain unaccountable, said Tutu.

“(Obama) should come down hard on them. They disgrace us.

“The things that happen in Zimbabwe are abominable. And our leaders took so long.”

Tutu said he hoped the South African government would become “a great deal more bold” and heed the urgings of churches for a basic income grant, which would help alleviate the situation where the country’s citizens went hungry.

“I went to high school in 1945 and we didn’t have desks… 60 years later I go to Mpumalanga and children are holding class under the trees.

“I went into a library and broke down. Sixty years later, the children are sitting on benches, there are no desks,” Tutu said.

One of the most extraordinary characteristics of the country was the patience of its people, said Tutu.

“South Africa is sitting on a powder keg.

“And that is why we have opposed the arms deal – because we don’t have external enemies. The worst enemy facing us is poverty.”

Returning to his wishlist for Obama, Tutu said the new president should apologise to the people of Iraq, which had been invaded on the basis of a lie.
And he should “use his honeymoon period to act expeditiously on the matter of the Middle East”.

“What happened in Gaza is totally unacceptable,” said Tutu.

Responding to a question about the options available to a chaplain faced with immoral acts on the part of his employer, Tutu said there was one question to be answered: “What are you prepared to live with?”

There came a time when you had to say so far and not further, when it was necessary for chaplains to have the moral courage to take a stand.

“If there are no parameters, we might as well go back to the jungle,” said Tutu.

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Human Rights & Reconciliation

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South Africa