It Was 20 Years Ago Today

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I don’t often keep newspapers. Like sushi, they’re meant to be consumed on day of purchase. You flip through them while they’re hot off the presses, turning back the pages, double-creasing the folds, scanning the massive broadsheet pages, alighting every now and again on an item of fleeting interest.

Then, having had your fill, you re-fold them in any old way and toss them in the nearest bin, or benevolently leave them for the next passenger. Newspapers, as we all know, are the first draft of history. Who wants to hang on to a first draft?

But for some reason, a sense of once-in-a-lifetime occasion, perhaps, a feeling that maybe one day my first-born daughter, then just a few months old, waiting in my arms in the queue, might want to take a look at what this day was all about, I held on to this edition of The Star, the Late Afternoon edition of Wednesday, April 27, 1994.

As you can see, it has not weathered the years terribly well. It has a great rift down the middle, it is fraying at the edges, it is yellowing from exposure to the light.

I probably wouldn’t get more than 50 cents for it at my local antique shop, and since it cost me R1,10 on the day, that wouldn’t be much of a dividend.

Still, as I turn the pages now, and I hear the snap of ruffling newsprint, like thunder rolling across the plains, I am pleased I held onto this, not for the sake of memory, but for the sake of tomorrow. This is where the whole thing started. Come, let’s flip through the pages.

Page One Lead

“Apartheid dies today.” Just three words, as stark as a telegram from the warzone, introduce the main story, beneath the splash headline, “Vote, the beloved country”.

The headline, a spin on the title of Alan Paton’s famous book, was re-echoed on the front page of the Saturday Star of April 26, 2014: “Fly, the beloved country”.

I thought at first that this was a story about some new low-cost airline, but it turned out to an overview and a celebration of the altitude we have attained after two decades of democracy.

Page One Comment

An Editor’s Comment on Page One is a very rare thing, reserved for occasions of great historical import, when the Editor (in this case, actually, the Editor-in-Chief) emerges from the wings of the Op Ed page to say a few words in the dazzling glare.

“Today, the birthday of the new South Africa, our country changes profoundly for the better,” it begins. Then there is some reflection on “the majority taking their rightful places on the ship of state, while the old crew stays on as willing co-pilots.”

But 20 years down the line, the line that leaps out is this: “Burdened by the close-up view of worries ranging from poverty to crime rates and shortages of tomato sauce.” We still have a long way to go, and those big worries are with us still, but at least we can safely say that we have all the tomato sauce we need.

Page One Quote

“It’s an incredible feeling, like falling in love.” Thus sayeth the Arch, after casting his vote. This is in a foot-of-the-page section called “The People Say”, which today, of course,  would be “The People Tweet”.

Page Two

This has traditionally been one of the best-read pages of The Star, because it contains the Weather Report.

In the Transvaal, the forecast said, it would be partly cloudy in the north with fog along the escarpment. In the Orange Free State: Fine and mild. But the winds of change were blowing throughout the land, and soon the Transvaal would be consigned to history, and the Orange would be dropped from the Free State.

A short item on this page, headlined “Poison in water rumour denied” assured the public that there was no truth to the rumour that poisons had been introduced into supply lines serving the Reef from the Vaal Dam.

Page Three

“Shares soar on relieved JSE”. Undeterred by a nationwide blitz of at least 16 explosions in the three days leading up to  ballot day, the overall index of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange gained 172 points to finish at 5240.

“Even paper and pulp company Sappi, which reported depressed profits yesterday, gained 300c to R45.” So if you had invested in some Sappi shares back then, today you could sell them for – let’s quickly Google – R33,90. Sorry. Paper just isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on anymore.

Also interesting on this page is a big advert for Rembrandt van Rijn cigarettes, in which we see a rainbow shining gloriously over a field of tobacco – “The Cream of the Crop”. Today, of course, cigarette adverts are not allowed in South African media, although they still do go on and on about rainbows.

Page Four

An advert for 702 Talk Radio, capitalising on the Big Story of the day, boasts of “an unbiased team who’ve always believed the opinions of the man on the street are as important as those of the politician on his soapbox”.

How times have changed. These days, copy like that, suggesting that there are no women on the streets and no female politicians on soapboxes, wouldn’t even make it beyond the first round of reverts.

Not that it would really matter, because we would all be getting our election news from Twitter anyway.

Page Six

In a round-up of election news from across the country and across the globe, in eighth position on the far left-hand column of a left-hand page, we find this item from the South African Press Association:

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Just to be clear, this happened on Tuesday, April 26, 1994. But you have to admit, it really puts that whole “fire pool” business into perspective.

Page Seven

Three-quarters of the page is devoted to this election ad from the DP (Democratic Party), a beta version of the DA. The ad takes aim at the Nats, for their suggestion that the party is “too small to be a strong opposition to the ANC”.

To back their claim that they’re plenty big enough, they reproduce the mastheads of seven English-language publications that advised their readers to vote DP.

Speaking of which, whatever happened to the great newspaper tradition of unashamedly advising readers which party to vote for? It’s a really tough thing, having to make up your own mind.

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Page 8

A full-page ad for the National Party, “the only party big enough to stop the ANC picking your pocket. Don’t waste your vote on other parties”.

This rather ambiguous command is accompanied by a little picture of FW de Klerk, and the slogan “We’ve made the change”, which is surely, given the circumstances, the biggest example of chutzpah in the history of electoral politics.

Page 9

Letters to the Editor. Yes, people wrote Letters to the Editor back then. In fact, the Letters Page even had an Editor of its own. It was a much sought-after job. Who wouldn’t want to spend their whole workday tossing letters into the bin?

The standout letter here is “Decision clearly politically inspired”, referring to the decision by the SABC to withhold the scheduled screening of a satirical election special by Pieter-Dirk Uys, entitled One Man, One Volt.

What’s really shocking, in retrospect, is that nobody even makes satirical election specials for the SABC to ban anymore.

Page 10

The Op Ed page, with its familiar tone of editorial harrumph. The main editorial is a complaint about the proposed new name of the Star’s home province, Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging, or PWV for short.

“We do not want to be called by three initials, and if we Transvalers make our case loudly enough, we do not need to be,” harrumphs the editorial we.

Of course, in the end, we became Gauteng, and the Star probably complained about that too.

Pages 14 to 19

The Classifieds. Yes, the Star had classified ads back then too. There was even a section for “Arms/Ammunition” – CASH FOR YOUR UNWANTED FIREARMS URGENT – but really, the main thrust here was on Escort Services, and calls for responses to Municipal Tenders.

Page 22

What was on at the movies. Once you had had finished standing in the long, snaking queue, and making your mark on history, you could choose from an interesting selection of new releases, including  “Fearless”, “On Deadly Ground”, “Dazed and Confused”, “Boiling Point”, and “Much Ado About Nothing”.

Page 26

“English tour may bomb”. We tend to forget, from the distance of headlines and public holidays, what a perilous, precarious state South Africa was in, in the brisk autumn days of 1994.

So much so, that there was talk that England might be forced to cancel their upcoming rugby tour of the country, in light of the spate of pre-election bomb blasts.

As it turned out, the English came, and they won the First Test at Loftus, and lost the Second at Newlands. And in the winter of the following year, the Rugby World Cup was held in South Africa, and we all know what happened then.

Happy Freedom Day, everyone!

 

 

 

 

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On Gareth Cliff, the Aromat of Opinion-Makers

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An opinion, when you think about it, is really nothing more than an invitation to an argument. You don’t even need to RSVP: you just roll up your sleeves and join in.
It’s always opinion-party-time somewhere in South Africa, be it around the dinner table, around the braai, in the queue at Home Affairs, in the stands at Loftus, in the festering cauldron of the footnotes on news24.com, or in the fast lane of the N1 when someone is driving in front of you.

We are fortunate enough to live in a society where anyone can say what they want, without fear of contradiction, because why should you be afraid of being contradicted when that’s the very point of having an opinion?
So whatever I personally may believe about Julius Malema, the rugby, Libertarianism or the new Coldplay album, you are very welcome and expected to believe the opposite and say so, out loud. That’s what makes our society so noisy and interesting.
Now let’s adjust the volume a little to the left, as we move on to a topic of conversation on which we can all wholeheartedly agree. Gareth Cliff.
I remember well the first time I heard Gareth on the radio. He was just a young whippersnapper, or at least a slightly younger whippersnapper than he is today, and he was trying to make a name for himself as a daytime talkshow host on 702.
He expressed his opinion on a matter, I forget which, and some bloke took up his invitation and dialled in to argue with him.
It was a heated debate, at least on the part of the caller, whose temperature and voice rose to the point where he ran out of rhetorical devices and called Gareth a rude word beginning with a C, and I don’t mean Cliff.
My jaw dropped, and I drove along in a mixture of perverse glee – swearing on South African radio is still uncommon enough to feel like a cosmic event – and cringing empathy for the host, who had just been subjected to the ultimate professional test at so early a stage in his career.
But he handled it with aplomb, not by sheepishly cutting to commercial, but by calmly giving the caller a lesson in etiquette and linguistics that ended with a C-word of Gareth’s own choosing. Capice. Ca-peesh?
There was something about the way he said the word, nerdy and mock-gangster, enough so to make Joe Pesci whip out a pistol and shoot him in the foot, that made me laugh out loud, and I stayed tuned even after I reached my destination.
Nowadays, of course, Gareth Cliff is amultimedia personality, famous for being heard and seen and having an opinion on, well, everything.
In fact, he has just launched a book called Gareth Cliff On Everything, the title of which makes him sound a bit like a condiment, like Aromat, the artificially-flavoured seasoning that you sprinkle on everything to make it taste like something.
So Gareth, we learn, has opinions on organised religion (he doesn’t like it), fat people in aeroplanes (he doesn’t like them), cooking reality shows (he doesn’t like them), Julius Malema (he doesn’t like him), celebrities (he doesn’t like them), hospitals (he doesn’t like them), vegetarians (he doesn’t like them), His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI (he really doesn’t like him), and opinions (he likes them, his own especially).
Given the premise of the book, which is designed to “engage, enrage, and derange you”, I find myself in the awkward position of agreeing with many of Gareth’s opinions, which isn’t too hard, since so many of them now swim comfortably in the mainstream of contemporary thinking.
Everyone hates politicians and celebrities and Reality TV, for instance, and honestly, speaking as a vegetarian, I can confirm that even vegetarians have a hard time tolerating other vegetarians, particularly at a braai.
These days, if you really want to enrage and derange your constituency, you would be better off saying that you believe in an omnipotent supernatural being, because blind faith has become a form of stubborn heresy in this age of secular reason.
What Gareth’s book does reveal, though, is just how far we’ve come as a society, and how disc-jockeys are now among the least edgy and contentious commentators on the quirks, foibles, and evils of that society.
In the 80s and early 90s, before democracy and the Internet opened the dam-walls of public opinion, it took a lot of courage and madness and, possibly, drugs, for a deejay to declare what they privately believed or didn’t believe on air.
Sometimes, they didn’t even need to declare; Stan Katz of 702 once got into big trouble just for deviating from the playlist to suffix a pronouncement by PW Botha with a recording of the Talking Heads singing Road to Nowhere.
But now Gareth can pretty much say anything he wants, capeesh, and we accept it as part of the price we pay for being free to say what we want in return.
The point is, Gareth is as much a part of the landscape of South African social and political discourse as anyone with a Twitter account and a News24 log-in, the only meaningful difference being that when he complains about the Government, a Government spokesperson takes him out to lunch. Well, all right, just that once.
This book is an easy and diverting read, and the only thing I actively didn’t like about it is that Gareth spends too much time reminding us that he is a cynic and that he is opinionated, which is something no opinionated cynic should ever feel the need to do.
Worse than that, Gareth takes a page and a half to apologise for some of his previously-held opinions, such as the opinion that Blade Nzimande is ugly and that Cindy Nel…who is Cindy Nel again?
Please, Gareth, don’t apologise. There are more than enough opinions to go round, and you are fully entitled to hold two diametrically opposing opinions in your head at the same time. Just swap the one for the other as circumstances and company demand, and you’ll be fine.
For now, one thing I do actively like about this book is its cover, which shows Gareth with his arms folded, wearing a tasteful shirt and a Gareth Cliff expression.
It is an expression, thin-lipped, with a hint of an upward curve, steely-eyed, with a hint of a downward gaze, that has become Gareth’s trademark, more even than the GC logotype that defines his Personal Brand.
It is an expression that says “I am Gareth Cliff, and you are not”, which, in my opinion, is  a better title for this book, reminding us that in a world of clones, carbon copies, and wannabes, Gareth Cliff is one of a kind, and for that we should all be grateful.
*Gareth Cliff On Everything is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers, and is available now wherever books are sold. Aromat is manufactured by Knorr, and is available on the bottom shelf in the top right-hand kitchen cupboard.

All It Takes is Tutu: A Day in the Footsteps of the Archbishop

 

 

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*In 1995, I was commissioned by Style Magazine to write a profile of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Then, as now, he was a busy man, besieged by visitors from abroad and requests from the media. I was told he wouldn’t be able to fit me into his schedule for months to come. Then his Press Secretary, John Allen, said, “Why don’t you just come to Cape Town for the day, and hang out with the Arch?” So that’s what I did. And here is the story.

It’s teatime in the library at Bishopscourt. Beyond the wide-open patio doors, the garden is alive with colour and birdsong, and the summit of the mountain is untroubled by cloud.

It is a beautiful new South African day. The Archbishop is in his place, and all is well with the world.

He sips his drink – Milo, with ice, in a tall glass – and he rests it on the tea-trolley, his every gesture  captured on video and film by the cameras that obscure the faces of the Presbyterian  peacemaking delegation from America.

He points to photographs of his predecessors and tells them a story about the bishop, the archbishop and the Very Big Dog.

His ebony crucifix bounces on his chest as he mimes the collapsing of the archbishop’s deckchair,  the leaping of the hound on the cassock, the frantic  maid rushing in to call for help.

As he reaches  the punchline – “And the bishop said: ‘I’m glad'” – his voice descends to a sonorous  timbre, and the room swells with raucous laughter and the sound of Presbyterians steadying  their teacups.

The archbishop lets it ride for a moment, and then he points to the portrait of another of his forerunners.

This  time, the story is of courage and fortitude in the face of impending death. The room falls silent.

He plays the mood like a violinist, sweeping up the scale to a lilting crescendo of hope and resurrection, ending on his three favourite words: “Wonderful,  wonderful,  wonderful.”

At that moment, everyone in the  room is in love with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, or at least in awe of his infinite capacity to solicit adoration.

He claps his hands and ushers the delegation into the dining-room, where they will talk about peace and truth and justice.

I have been following in the footsteps of Desmond Tutu since early this morning.

At the unholy hour of 5.30am, I drove up the winding,  leafy lanes of Bishopscourt, dodging   squirrels and joggers and old men walking their dogs.

But all I could see, in a mind’s-eye montage of fleeting images from television, newspapers and authorised biographies, was the Nobel Peace Prize laureate,  the icon of the anti-Apartheid struggle,  the purple­clad prophet of the Rainbow Nation: Tutu.

Tutu forcing his way through  an angry mob to save a black policeman from the necklace.

Tutu clambering into the back of a Casspir, a police dog snapping at his heels. Tutu lifting his cassock and toyi-toyiing on April 27, 1994.

Tutu spreading goodwill in a township street, wearing a fisher­man’s cap and a custom-made T-shirt: “Just Call Me Arch”.

Tutu, alone in the moonlight  in a faraway English parish, dancing like a dervish with the unbridled  joy of Christmas. But it’s a little early for that.

John Allen, the archbishop’s media secretary, who used to pound the religious affairs beat on The Star, leads the way down  a carpeted  corridor  lined  with awards  and citations and momentoes of photo opportunities.

Apart from the grinding, clunking rhythm of heavy machinery, it’s as quiet as a cathedral  in here.

Allen peers around a doorway, nods, and makes a suggestion. “Say, ‘Hi.’ ”

It is the archbishop. He raises a hand and says: “Hi.”

He is striding very briskly in his tracksuit and Reeboks, brow lightly varnished with sweat, going nowhere fast on a Trojan treadmill exercise  machine. It is the price he has to pay for being Tutu.

Not too long ago, he felt free to walk with God on  the  pavement  outside  the  security  gate.  Now  it’s  30 minutes on the treadmill every morning. Still, he remains blissfully oblivious  to distraction.

His eyes are fixed on the infinite, his  lips move in silent conversation. He’s not talking to himself.

The day will begin with a Eucharist service at St George’s Cathedral  in Cape Town.  There  will be a staff  meeting to discuss pastoral  matters.

On the way back to Bishopscourt, he will record a short Christmas message at Tape Aids for the Blind.

He has three  media interviews lined up for the day: two television, one print. He will entertain  the Presby­terians and see a couple of parishioners.

In the evening, he will answer  questions  from  the nation  on Microphone-In with Nigel Murphy.

Things are not working out as planned. When he raised Nelson Mandela’s hand on the balcony at the Grand Parade, like a referee announcing  the champ, the idea was that Tutu, leader by default during the power vacuum of the Struggle, would disappear quietly into the purple band of the South African spectrum. He would become a pastor.

Trouble  is, the transition was a miracle. Everyone knows that. No-one knows why.

So the archbishop  has had a lot of explaining  to do, on an increasing  number  of public plat­forms at home and abroad.

But he is a man of the cloth. He bears his burden with  grace. “I am loved,” he once explained,  “therefore I am.”

Loaded  with papers  and  passages from Scripture,  the archbishop  slides into the back seat of the Camry as John Allen starts the engine.

The journey  to town, in peak-hour traffic, will take about 25 minutes. Perhaps there will be time for small talk. Perhaps  not.

We take a left onto the M3, easing into the citybound flow. “I take my life in my hands continually,” says the archbishop,  quoting from his  daily  text.

“Yet I do not forget Your law. The wicked have laid a snare for me, yet I have not strayed from Your precepts. Your commands  are the joy of my heart.”

The archbishop  slips off a patent-leather shoe  and extends a red-socked foot towards the gear-lever, almost touching  Allen’s pin-striped  shirt.

“I loathe those who are double-minded, and Your law do I love. You are my shelter and my shield.  All the ungodly  of the earth  You count as dross. My flesh shrinks from fear of You.”

I catch sight of the archbishop  in the side-view  mirror. A small, grey-haired man in  a purple  cassock,  cloaked  in solemn meditation. It is a jolt.

The secular world slips by the window: minibuses, trucks, police cars, billboards advertising timeshare  on Devil’s Peak.

“And  now, you priests, this decree  is for you. Unless  you listen to Me, unless  you pay heed to the honouring  of My name, says the Lord of Hosts, I shall lay a curse on you, I shall cut off your arms, fling offal in your faces. I shall banish  you from My presence.”

It is 7.45am. It’s impossible to find parking in this town. Even the reserved spot in the courtyard of St George’s Cathedral  is taken.

Tutu hops wordlessly  out of the car and disappears  into the mouth of the church. He swaps his purple cassock  for green. Eucharist.

He swallows the last of the communion  wine, the inside of the chalice shining silvery light on his face.

He pauses, rests  his elbow  on the pulpit  and  contemplates his small congregation of ecclesiastical staff. A sermon is optional  at this point.

Instead,  he says to them: “Hello. You look fine to me.” Something about  the archbishop’s timing  and delivery makes me want to burst out laughing,  but I check  myself. This is a church.

Later, on Microphone-In, Tutu takes a call from  a  man  who  is opposed  to  affirmative action.  Tutu concedes his point, but chides him for the sexism inherent in his belief that the best man should  get the job.

“Ja,” says the caller, lapsing into platitude, “I always say that behind every good man is a good woman.”

Tutu doesn’t miss a beat. “No,” he says, shrill as a bird, shoulders shaking with  mirth.  “Behind   every  good man  is  a  woman  with nothing to wear.”

This  is  crazy.  Now  we’re  parked  in. And so is the archbishop.

At every  step he takes from  the cathedral,  his path is blocked by someone else who wants a minute of his time, to hug, to shake hands, to greet, to implore, to deliver tidings.

People surround him in clusters, and his laughter peals through the courtyard.

A visiting theologian  from Germany, watching from the shade of a jacaranda tree, tells me he is horrified by the sight.

But the archbishop has a simple  approach  to such matters. “God, I am doing your work. It is jolly well your business to look after me.”

Finally, like the Red Sea, cars give way, and we head for Bishopscourt via Tape  Aids  for  the  Blind, where the archbishop will pre-record his Christmas message.

Sitting  in the glass  booth  after  a royal  reception  and a quick-as-a-flash photo opportunity,  Tutu  obliges  the engi­neer with a sound check -“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, I’m sitting in my chair and hoping for Heaven” – and lays down  his homily in one take, without notes.

Bethlehem,  he says,  is God’s graffiti  for the world: “I just want to say I love you.”

Politely  declining  tea, Tutu bestows  benedictions in triplicate on his way out.

“God  bless you, God bless  you, God bless you. Good morning and bye-bye.”

At Bishopscourt, someone  asks him  how  he is feeling. He lifts  his purple skullcap and pats his bald spot. “Moeg,” he says, turning the word  into  a wounded  bellow. But the limelight  enervates him. Maybe  too much.

He is sitting on a chair in the shade of a bottlebrush  tree when the cameraman  from the BBC whoomphs a white light onto  his face. Tutu recoils.

The  programme is Songs of Praise , but he feels more like a suspect in a police interrogation room.

The producer, sitting opposite, pops her head into a black  bag, checking  the image on the monitor.  She offers a technical  explanation.

“Unfortunately, the light is necessary. Otherwise you’ll look very dark.”

She attempts to embellish the point. Too late. Tutu almost falls off the chair with giggling.

“But I am very dark! And very hot. Are you trying to prepare me for the other  place?”

The  light is dimmed, leaving  just a glow of neon on Tutu’s face, and red on the producer’s. She fires away.

“What does Advent  mean to you, personally?”

Every word trips from Tutu’s tongue with relish.

“Preparation  for the birth of a baby .. .” Cut. “Sorry,” says the producer, “would  you mind very much saying,  ‘Advent to me . . . ‘ ”

He flaps his palms on his cassock.  Of course. He should  know  these things  by now. Advent. Ubuntu.  Guilt. Confession. Renewal.

Eloquent, emotive, spontaneous, Tutu is an interviewer’s dream. But there is only so much of him to go round.  He is forced  to distribute his soundbites  like loaves  and fishes.

Many times during the day , I will hear him saying: “If we do not open the wound  and cleanse  it, it will fester.” “My humanity is  caught up in your humanity.” “People are making  the  mistake  of  thinking   that  freedom  means  li­cence.” Yet even Tutu is sometimes at a loss for words.

When the producer asks him to encapsulate his feelings on the miracle of April27, there is only the sound of a bee buzzing,  and paper rustling,  and a truck changing  gears  in the distance.  Time is suspended. Then he spreads  his arms, forgetting that the camera  is on a tight shot.

“Incredible. Incredible, incredible.” He pauses.  “Elec­tric! You wanted to jump and to cry and to laugh, all at the same time. But maybe the most prominent  thing was, ‘Hey! I am free. We are all free. Black and white together.’ Yes, we are going to succeed, scintillatingly, spectacularly, because we have made this transition from …”He touches his face. “… pigmentocracy to democracy. Incredible.”

He claps his hands and I steel myself against the urge to join in. One final question. It is the most difficult and challenging of them all.

“Do you feel there is anything  else I should  have asked you?” Tutu leaps from the chair,  waving  his hands, trilling in protest: “No, no, no! Please don ‘t try.”

He sits behind the desk in his study surrounded by tokens of the adoration  he­ craves. A  signed   portrait of Bill Cosby. A big red St Valentine’s bear. A frog with arms in hugging  position.

Forty years ago, Tutu taught English and mathe­ matics  at Madibane  High  in Sophiatown. Then he entered  the priesthood, inspired in part by the earth-shattering sight of a white man tipping his hat to a black woman. The woman was Tutu’s mother;  the man was Father Trevor  Huddlestone.

Twenty years ago, after ministering in Benoni, London, and Lesotho, Tutu was appointed  Anglican  Dean of Johannesburg.

Then Bishop of Lesotho. Then General  Secretary of the South African Council of Churches.

Then, days after winning  the Nobel  Peace Prize, Bishop of Johannesburg. Then Archbishop of Cape Town. Where does he go from here?

Somehow, he does not feel qualified for sainthood.

“The trouble,” he says, “is that people don’t know me. Christianity says everyone  is a saint until the contrary  is proven. But the very first thing that disqualifies me … is feeling sorry for myself. There  are moments  when you think, not even your wife understands you . And you have a huge bout of self-pity, which leads  to self-justification. You don ‘t  want to spend too much time worrying  about  whether  you are holy. The thing is, have you caught  a glimpse  of God’s holiness,  and what does that do to you?”

I ask Tutu whether it worries him that his own holiness has not always been apparent to some of his countrymen.

Some years ago, when he was travelling the world, denounc­ing Apartheid, calling for sanctions, and telling the West to go to hell, a white woman passed Tutu in the concourse at Jan Smuts Airport.

“It’s that bastard Tutu,” she said. “If I had a gun, I’d shoot him now.”

Yes, it worries him. There  is a real danger, in the post­ Apartheid era, that Archbishop Desmond Tutu is becoming too respectable.

Whites who once despised him for attack­ing the Government, now admire him for attacking the Government.

“You  know,” he marvels, “I  have  heard  it said  that  I should go and be chaplain  to the Springboks. That wouldn’t hVE been suggested,  even in a jocular way, a year or so ago. Our  spat with  Nelson,  particularly,  was good. It made people realise  that I am not a lackey of any political  party, and that democracy  does not mean not disagreeing. I have also heard it said, by someone in the ANC, that Bishop Tutu should concentrate on religion. It’s quite extraordinary how quickly they echo their predecessors!”

But it doesn’t surprise  him. He understands  the concept of Original  Sin: it would only surprise him if people in positions of power did not succumb  to  the  temptation to abuse  it.

He  is satisfied  that honest  moves have been made to derail  the Gravy Train,  but the thing  that worries him even more is guns.

“The arms trade is a very real concern. The Government may be persuaded that this is a foreign exchange boost, but we are saying,  if the only thing you are looking  for is more money to come into the country, why not get involved in the drug trade? I mean, it’s  much more lucrative.”

He laughs and recalls a bumper-sticker slogan suggested at a recent church conference on the subject. “Anglicans Do It Without  Arms”.

A loaded question. For a moment, he broods on the nature of power that comes and goes.

“In fact, nobody is indispensable. You are indispensable in a way because there is nobody quite like you, but in another sense, you are not. You are on a stage at the moment. But your act will pass,  and  some  other  actor will come onto the stage. And those of us who are Christian know that death is not the worst thing that can happen to you.”

He pauses, and throws his hands up in the air. “But I’m enjoying life, man! It’s great, it really is wonderful to be alive at this time and to see the vindication of the people’s hopes. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.”

The archbishop  is sitting in a floral-patterned easy­chair in the lounge at Bishopscourt, surrounded by Presbyterians who have seen the Rainbow.

A woman in a dog-collar  says, “Your Grace, I would say that just being here, and seeing the way our African brothers and sisters – I mean black Africans – are able to put aside the suffering and work towards  peace, answers  a problem  that we have not answered in the States. You are light years ahead of us.”

The archbishop nods sagely, touching  the bridge of his nose with his fingertips. Then he brings the delegation  back to earth.

“I hope,” he says, stretching the vowel into infinity, “you are not going to be idealising us.” Laughter. “Because we have very, very serious problems. We are all in need of healing. If the wound is not open and cleansed, it will fester.”

The leader of the delegation presents the archbishop with a plaque and a T-shirt, and a woman knocks over a coffee­ table on her way to take a photograph.

Tutu points to the bottom of the garden, where Nelson Mandela  held his first press conference as a free man.

“Perhaps you would like to take a look, so that you too can say, ‘I walked where he walked.'”

A man calls Microphone-In to complain  about the archbishop. It makes a change. He is white, and his voice is pinched with righteous indignation.

“How can you Tutu…I beg your pardon, how can you toyi-toyi in the church aisles? How can you clap and sing? Where is your dignity?”

It is not in the studio. Tutu is hooting,  shrieking,  almost weeping with laughter.

“I don’t care for dignity! I frankly am not worried one little bit. I am an African. I am me. I will dance  in Washington, I will dance  in St-Martin’s-in-the­ field, I will clap my hands and make a joyful noise unto the Lord. What makes you think that God does not laugh?”

He’s laughing now. All it takes is Tutu.