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December 28, 2007

Excerpt from Bill Moyers' Conversation with Archbishop Tutu, April 27, 1999

BILL MOYERS: You heard Thomas Cahill refer several times to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African who's book on forgiveness so deeply touched Dominique Green the man who Cahill himself said reminds him of St. Patrick of Ireland. I've interviewed the Archbishop several times over the years here's an excerpt from our meeting in 1999.

BILL MOYERS: I saw some footage of an angry black crowd turning on a black policeman who the crowd suspected of being an informer, an agent, a traitor…. And you were in the picture you put yourself, thrust yourself, between that angry crowd and that victim. Didn't you think you might be killed?

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: When you are standing at the edge of a sidewalk and there is a little child and there's a car coming along and the child walks across the street in the path of the oncoming car, do you stand on the sidewalk and say if I go I might get killed? You don't even think, you act.

BILL MOYERS: Did you have fear?

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Not at the time. It's afterwards, when I saw it on television I said, “What in the name of everything that is good had got into me?” No, because I think the most of us would do that.

BILL MOYERS: Desmond Tutu was born in 1931 in an impoverished township in South Africa.

BILL MOYERS: He wanted to be a doctor, but wound up a parish priest and a prophet.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU (From speech): For until blacks are free, no one in this country is going to be free.

BILL MOYERS: For 30 years he was a leader in his people's struggle to end apartheid, the rule of white supremacy.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU (From speech): If you think you can stop us from becoming free, you are going to be stampeded.

BILL MOYERS: The course was hard and costly.

ARCHBISHOP TUTU (From speech): The system tries all it can to destroy us. It won't succeed. God is on our side.

BILL MOYERS: In 1984, Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One year later, even as his own people still could not vote, the Anglican Church enthroned him as the first black archbishop in South Africa. In 1994, millions of black South Africans, including Tutu, voted for the first time. Nelson Mandela was elected president. Apartheid was no longer the law of the land. But the nation's healing had just begun. Mandela asked Archbishop Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its mandate was to document the horrors of apartheid and to sow the seeds of reconciliation between blacks and whites.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: We do want to forgive. But-I mean, we don't know how to forgive because we don't know the killers, you know.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: He had a gun in his hand pointed at my forehead.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The act of opening the magazine was the detonating device for a bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Through translator) And then they said to me, "Today you are going to die."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Through translator) During that period, we were suffocated.

BILL MOYERS: How did you manage to sit there day after day and hear these stories of terrible things that people had been doing to other people?

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: It was terrible, but -- and I cry easily. That is I broke down on the very first day. But I then said it wasn't fair, 'God, you couldn't allow this to happen,' because the media then concentrated on me instead of on the people who were the rightful subjects, the victims. And if I wanted to cry, then I would cry at home or in church. But I was sustained by prayer, yes

BILL MOYERS: What was the worst thing about apartheid?

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Ultimately, it is actually when it makes you doubt that you are a child of God. When you are subjected to treatment that begins to work in here and you begin to say, maybe they are right. Language is very powerful, language does not just describe reality, language creates the reality it describes. And so when they call you a non-European, a non-this you may think it is not working on you, but in fact it is corrosive of your self image. You end up wondering whether you are actually as human as those others.

BILL MOYERS: This report that your commission released, has been called one of the most important documents in the 20th century. What would you like of it for the world to take to heart?

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: I would hope that the world would realize that there is no situation that is not transfigurable, that there is no situation of which we can say, 'This is absolutely, totally devoid of hope,' because that is what people thought about South Africa. And that the star turns of this report are those we wrongly call just ordinary people. There are no ordinary people in my theology, but it is the small people, the ones who used to be nonentities, they are the stars and for the world to know that those called-so-called ordinary people are incredible.

BILL MOYERS: What do you actually do when you forgive someone?

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Well, basically, you are saying 'I am abandoning my right to revenge, to payback. I mean, I have... By the fact that you have abused me, you have hurt me, or -whatever it is that you have done, you have wronged me. By that you have given me a certain right as - over you that I could refuse to forgive you. I could say that I have the right to retribution.' When I forgive, I say, 'I jettison that right, and I open the door of opportunity to you, to make a new beginning.' That is what I do when I forgive you.

BILL MOYERS: But the Buddhists talk of letting go of the past, dying to the past, when you forgive, of letting loose of the sorrow that you have brought with you from the past. Is that what you're talking about?

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Yes. The thing is, of course that I don't know that you yourself are able, by an act of will, as it were, to let go of the pain. The will part of it, where your will is, deliberately to say, 'I am not going to let you victimize me and hold me in a position where I have an anger against you, a resentment, and I'm looking for the opportunity to pay back.' I am saying. 'I want to let go of that-that right, and begin to work for the possibility of restoring the relationship.

BILL MOYERS: Do I have to do anything - the person being forgiven?

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: For your own sake, the only way you can appropriate forgiveness is by confessing. That opens you to the possibility of being able to receive it. It's like, it's like opening up a window. You see forgiveness can be likened to the fresh air that is outside or the sunlight that is outside and you have a room and the windows are closed and the curtains are drawn. The wind is still out there, my forgiveness is still available to you, but it won't find access until you open the window and the light streams in. You draw the curtains apart and the fresh air comes in. You by your contrition and confession, say I am sorry, forgive me, open and my forgiveness enters your being.

BILL MOYERS: We're talking here about genocide, torture. Are genocide and torture forgivable?

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: As a Christian, you have to say, 'Are there things that are unforgivable?' I'm afraid we follow a lord and master who at the point when they are crucifying him in the most painful way can say, 'Pray for their forgiveness.' And we follow the one who says, 'Forgive one another as God and Christ forgave you.' That is for us the paradigm. We may not always reach to that ideal, but that is the standard.

BILL MOYERS: That's it for the Journal. See you next week. I'm Bill Moyers.

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