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“We Have a Choice” : Desmond Tutu

In a recent lecture, Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu of South Africa remembered the times when the country was struggling to break through the shackles of apartheid. He thanked India for its support to his country's anti-apartheid movement. He noted that although South Africa has come a long way, all efforts to establish human rights would go wasted if the country doesn't bridge the wide gap between the rich and the poor. Tutu's speech was the inaugural L. C. Jain Memorial Lecture at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi on November 5, 2013.


Excerpts from the L.C. Jain memorial lecture by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond M. Tutu.

I remember going to San Francisco. I was walking on the road minding my own business as I always do. And this lady came up and she was quite effusive and warm and she greeted me, ‘Hello archbishop Mandela!’ sought of getting two for the price of one.

It really is a very great privilege and honour to have been asked to give this inaugural lecture. It gives me the opportunity of yet again expressing on behalf of millions and millions of my compatriots, our profound gratitude to you, the people of India, for your distinguished part in our liberation. We in our country have won a great prize in our political freedom as I indicated, assisted by the international community egged on by you. But it will be a precarious political freedom, a very great risk if we do not do something drastic and quickly to narrow the gap between the poor and the rich, the haves and the have-nots.

We have made tremendous strides in so many areas.

It’s fantastic, you know. In Cape Town we live not very far from a high school, which before 1994 admitted only White pupils. Today you can often just stand there and see the demography of South Africa spread on the playing fields of the high school. Under the apartheid dispensation, police used to climb trees to peep into bedrooms to check whether Black and White were in bed together. Today you see mixed couples pushing a pram with a baby of undetermined hue inside. And so far as I can make out, the sky is still in place.

Yes, we have come a very very long way but all of that is at great risk if we do not in our country narrow the gap between the poor and the rich, the haves and the have-nots. We must recognize the poor amongst us as our sisters and brothers, as members of our family. You probably have heard of this thing that we have at home. Ubuntu: the essence of being human. We see a person as a person through other persons. That none of us could ever be utterly self-sufficient for the totally self-sufficient is sub human.

The poor amongst us are our sisters and brothers, not figuratively, but in the most real sense. That we belong to one family, cause family, the human family. And if we do not give the poor a leg up they will, assured as anything bring the whole edifice stumbling down.

We have a choice. To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., another staunch disciple of Gandhi, ‘We can choose to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools’.

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