Desmond Tutu

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A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu (born October 7, 1931) is a South African cleric and activist who rose to worldwide fame during the 1980s as an opponent of apartheid. Tutu was the first black South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, and primate of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

Sourced

I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.
You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.
  • I am fifty-two years of age. I am a bishop in the Anglican Church, and a few people might be constrained to say that I was reasonably responsible. In the land of my birth I cannot vote, whereas a young person of eighteen can vote. And why? Because he or she possesses that wonderful biological attribute — a white skin.
    • Guardian Weekly [London] (8 April 1984)
  • Be nice to the whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity.
  • For goodness sake, will they hear, will white people hear what we are trying to say? Please, all we are asking you to do is to recognize that we are humans, too.
    • As quoted in The New York Times (3 January 1985)
  • When a pile of cups is tottering on the edge of the table and you warn that they will crash to the ground, in South Africa you are blamed when that happens.
    • As quoted in The New York Times (3 January 1985)
  • I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.
    • Today, NBC TV (9 January 1985)
  • Those who invest in South Africa should not think they are doing us a favor; they are here for what they get out of our cheap and abundant labor, and they should know that they are buttressing one of the most vicious systems.
    • Quoted by L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley in letter to the editor Los Angeles Times (13 May 1985)
  • A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons.
    • Address at his enthronement as Anglican archbishop of Cape Town (7 September 1986)
  • You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.
    • Address at his enthronement as Anglican archbishop of Cape Town (7 September 1986)
  • God has such a deep reverence for our freedom that he'd rather let us freely go to Hell than be compelled to go to Heaven.
    • Beyers Naudé memorial lecture (15 August 2003)
  • If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
    • As quoted in Ending Poverty As We Know It : Guaranteeing a Right to a Job at a Living Wage (2003) by William P. Quigley, p. 8
I give great thanks to God that he has created a Dalai Lama...
  • When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said "Let us pray." We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.
    • As quoted in Desmond Tutu: A Biography (2004) by Steven Gish, p. 101; this is a joke Tutu has used, but variants of it exist which are not original to him.
  • We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.
    • As quoted in The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips, and One-Liners (2004) by Geoff Tibballs, p. 255
I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period.
  • He has a childlike, boyish, impish, mischievousness. And I have to try and make him behave properly, like a holy man!
    • As quoted in "Dalai Lama honours Tintin and Tutu" at BBC News (2 June 2006)
  • We used to say to the apartheid government: you may have the guns, you may have all this power, but you have already lost. Come: join the winning side. His Holiness and the Tibetan people are on the winning side.
    • As quoted in "Dalai Lama honours Tintin and Tutu" at BBC News (2 June 2006)
  • I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, "Now is that political or social?" He said, "I feed you." Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.
    • As quoted in God’s Mission in the World : An Ecumenical Christian Study Guide on Global Poverty and the Millennium Development Goals (20006) by The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.
  • If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God.
  • Children are a wonderful gift. They have an extraordinary capacity to see into the heart of things and to expose sham and humbug for what they are.
    • As quoted in "The Words of Desmond Tutu" (1984)
  • Do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.
  • My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.
  • Niger is not an isolated island of desperation. It lies within a sea of problems across Africa - particularly the 'forgotten emergencies' in poor countries or regions with little strategic or material appeal.
  • What is black empowerment when it seems to benefit not the vast majority but an elite that tends to be recycled?
  • Without forgiveness, there's no future.
  • You must show the world that you abhor fighting.
  • History, like beauty, depends largely on the beholder, so when you read that, for example, David Livingstone discovered the Victoria Falls, you might be forgiven for thinking that there was nobody around the Falls until Livingstone arrived on the scene.
    • As quoted in Hope and Suffering: Sermons and Speeches by Desmond Tutu (1984)
  • Freedom and liberty lose out by default because good people are not vigilant.
    • As quoted in Hope and Suffering: Sermons and Speeches by Desmond Tutu (1984)
  • We who advocate peace are becoming an irrelevance when we speak peace. The government speaks rubber bullets, live bullets, tear gas, police dogs, detention, and death.
    • As quoted in Sunday Times Magazine (8 June 1986)
  • At home in South Africa I have sometimes said in big meetings where you have black and white together: 'Raise your hands!' Then I have said: 'Move your hands,' and I've said 'Look at your hands - different colors representing different people. You are the Rainbow People of God.'
    • Sermon in Tromsö, Norway (5 December 1991)
  • It was relatively easy, we now realize, to categorize countries and nations. You knew who your enemies were and whom you could count on as collaborators and friends. And even more importantly, you had ready-made scapegoats to take the blame when things were going wrong.
    • Speech entitled Freedom and Tolerance (June 1995), Cape Town Press Club
  • There are different kinds of justice. Retributive justice is largely Western. The African understanding is far more restorative - not so much to punish as to redress or restore a balance that has been knocked askew.
    • As quoted in "Recovering from Apartheid" at The New Yorker (18 November 1996)
  • Resentment and anger are bad for your blood pressure and your digestion.
    • As quoted in "Truth and reconciliation" at BBC Focus on Africa (January-March 2000)
  • Without forgiveness there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations.
    • As quoted in "Truth and reconciliation" at BBC Focus on Africa (January-March 2000)
  • South Africa, so utterly improbably, is a beacon of hope in a dark and troubled world.
    • As quoted in "Truth and reconciliation" at BBC Focus on Africa (January-March 2000)
  • I long and work for a South Africa that is more open and more just; Where people count and where they have equal access to the good things of life; With equal opportunity to live, work and learn.
  • What has happened to us? It seems as if we have perverted our freedom, our rights into license, into being irresponsible. Perhaps we did not realise just how apartheid has damaged us so that we seem to have lost our sense of right and wrong.
    • As quoted in "Desmond Tutu turns 75" at News24 (6 October 2006)
  • We refuse to be treated as the doormat for the government to wipe its jackboots on.
    • As quoted in "Profile: Archbishop Desmond Tutu" at BBC (24 May 2004)
  • Fundamental rights belong to the human being just because you are a human being.
  • I will never tell anyone to pick up a gun. But I will pray for the man who picks up a gun, pray that he will be less cruel than he might otherwise have been....
  • The reprisal against the suicide bomber does not bring peace. There is a suicide bomber, a reprisal and then a counter-reprisal. And it just goes on and on.
  • Reconciliation is a long process. We don't have the kind of race clashes that we thought would happen. What we have is xenophobia, and it's very distressing. But maybe you ought to be lenient with us. We've been free for just 12 years.
  • Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language... It is to say, 'My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours'.
  • "Isn't it sad, that in a time when we face so many devastating problems – poverty, HIV/AIDS, war and conflict – that in our Communion we should be investing so much time and energy on disagreement about sexual orientation?" [The Communion, which] "used to be known for embodying the attribute of comprehensiveness, of inclusiveness, where we were meant to accommodate all and diverse views, saying we may differ in our theology but we belong together as sisters and brothers" now seems "hell-bent on excommunicating one another. God must look on and God must weep."
  • "Sometimes you want to whisper in God's ear, 'God, we know you are in charge, but why don't you make it slightly more obvious?'"
    • University of Michigan Wallenberg Lecture, October 29, 2008
  • "You and I are created for transcendence, laughter, caring. God deliberately did not make the world perfect, for God is looking for you and me to be fellow workers with God."
    • University of Michigan Wallenberg Lecture, October 29, 2008
  • "It is for real that injustice and oppression will not have the last word. There was a time when Hitler looked like he was going to vanquish all of Europe, and where is he now?"
    • University of Michigan Wallenberg Lecture, October 29, 2008

Speech in Boston (2002)

Excerpts from "Apartheid in the Holy Land" in The Guardian (29 April 2002)
We in South Africa had a relatively peaceful transition. If our madness could end as it did, it must be possible to do the same everywhere else in the world...
If peace could come to South Africa, surely it can come to the Holy Land.
  • In our struggle against apartheid, the great supporters were Jewish people. They almost instinctively had to be on the side of the disenfranchised, of the voiceless ones, fighting injustice, oppression and evil. I have continued to feel strongly with the Jews. I am patron of a Holocaust centre in South Africa. I believe Israel has a right to secure borders.
    What is not so understandable, not justified, is what it did to another people to guarantee its existence. I've been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.
  • Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people. A true peace can ultimately be built only on justice. We condemn the violence of suicide bombers, and we condemn the corruption of young minds taught hatred; but we also condemn the violence of military incursions in the occupied lands, and the inhumanity that won't let ambulances reach the injured.
  • We in South Africa had a relatively peaceful transition. If our madness could end as it did, it must be possible to do the same everywhere else in the world. If peace could come to South Africa, surely it can come to the Holy Land.
  • People are scared in this country, to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful — very powerful. Well, so what? For goodness sake, this is God's world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust.
  • Injustice and oppression will never prevail. Those who are powerful have to remember the litmus test that God gives to the powerful: what is your treatment of the poor, the hungry, the voiceless? And on the basis of that, God passes judgment.
    We should put out a clarion call to the government of the people of Israel, to the Palestinian people and say: peace is possible, peace based on justice is possible. We will do all we can to assist you to achieve this peace, because it is God's dream, and you will be able to live amicably together as sisters and brothers.

Misattributed

  • The U.N. is as effective as its member states allow it to be.
    • This is actually a common observation, which has been made by many people, and thus far no published source has been found attributing it to Tutu. The earliest published variant thus far found was in Public Affairs Vol. 21 (1978) by the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs, p. 102:
The United Nations is an inter-governmental body. It is made up of member states, and it can only be as effective as its member states allow it to be.
A variant was also prominent in Ch. 6 of the Preventing Deadly Conflict : Final Report (1997) by the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict:
The main responsibility for addressing global problems, including deadly conflict, rests on governments. Acting individually and collectively, they have the power to work toward solutions or to hinder the process. The UN, of course, is only as effective as its member states allow it to be.

External links

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