Archive for Monday, April 19, 1999


April 19, 1999


Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu shared insights at Kansas University about bridging the chasm between black and white.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu's personal victory over apartheid five years ago was marked by the simple act of putting pencil to paper in a voting booth.

Tutu -- who had won a Nobel Peace Prize a decade earlier for his peaceful campaign against South Africa's policy of racial division -- waited 63 years to do what most Americans take for granted. Nelson Mandela, the other titan in the drive for emancipation, waited 76 years to vote.

"It was a miracle unfolding before our eyes," Tutu told about 4,000 people Sunday night during the KU Student Lecture Series at Allen Fieldhouse.

He said people in the United States who raised their voice against apartheid, including student activists at KU, furnished international pressure that helped loosen shackles keeping freedom out of reach for black South Africans.

"I speak on behalf of millions, thank you ... for the support you gave us," the archbishop said. "Thank you, thank you, thank you. For our victory, in a very real sense, is your victory."

Tutu, wearing a dark suit and customary wire-rimmed glasses, was given a standing ovation when he stepped on the stage and when he departed. The visiting professor at Emory University in Atlanta focused his remarks on respect for diversity and commitment to peaceful coexistence.

"I hope we affirm diversity and celebrate our differences," he said.

In a news conference before the speech, Tutu said wealthy Western nations, including the United States, came to the aid of countries with majority white populations more readily than countries mostly populated by blacks.

"There is no question, in our perception, it is still the case that one white person's life is worth any number of black person's lives," Tutu said.

He said all humans deserved to be valued equally.

"Compassion and caring should not be determined by the color of a person's skin."

Tutu said a complete life required people to embrace folks unlike themselves -- different age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, language.

"We need other human beings to become human ourselves," Tutu said. "On our own, we are impoverished."

He said people regrettably worked the hardest to find simple answers when challenged by complex times. This quest for easy solutions often has led to tragedy. The approach produced ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, genocide in Africa and the Holocaust in Europe, he said.

"I would hope you have zero tolerance for intolerance. The mature person is the one who makes room for diverse points of view. The mature person is not frightened by diverse points of view."

In regard to war in Kosovo, Tutu said there would be no lasting peace until Serbs and Albanians had an honest dialogue about the past and future. Compassion must rule conduct when the bombing and shooting stops. All villains -- regardless of how ghastly their crimes -- deserve sympathy as children of God, he said.

"There is always a possibility that a person can change. You don't give up."

In the afternoon, Tutu spoke by telephone with Leonard Peltier, who is incarcerated at the U.S. federal penitentiary in Leavenworth. Peltier is serving two life terms resulting from a 1975 shootout in which two FBI agents were killed.

Tutu called his imprisonment a "blot on the judicial system" in the United States.

"I would hope that his campaign -- the campaign to have him freed -- will succeed."

Tutu said the United States should create a national dialogue similar to that produced by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated apartheid-era human rights abuses in South Africa and was led by the archbishop. His commission reopened old wounds, tried to clean nagging sores and began the healing process.

"The Native American bears a pain in the pit of their tummy," Tutu said. "So do Africans."

Until Americans openly confront the underlying disease of injustice, he said, the country will continue to be a place where a black man in Texas can be dragged to death behind a pickup and a homosexual college student in Wyoming can be beaten, tied to a fence and left to die.

"That is the chasm," he said.

Tutu met before his talk with Rachel Sixta, a fourth-grade student from Prairie Village who had become a pen pal with the archbishop. Tutu signed Rachel's Bible and the 10-year-old girl gave him a bound journal. The two embraced and chatted briefly.

Tutu said individuals -- Sixta, for example, who wants to become a nurse -- have more power to change the world than they realize.

"A small movement starts an avalanche. The sea is made up of drops of water. If you have coalitions, you can determine what agendas we follow."

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is

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