CAPE TOWN, Oct 4 — A new Desmond Tutu biography to mark his 80th birthday Friday celebrates the South African icon as a tireless activist and playful inspiration in tributes from world leaders to rock stars.
The book “Tutu: The Authorised Portrait” released yesterday contains intimate accounts from the diverse collection of friends won over in his globe-trotting campaigns to end apartheid rule and then for peace.
“I believe that God is waiting for the archbishop. He is waiting to welcome Desmond Tutu with open arms,” said South Africa’s first democratic president and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela.
“If Desmond gets to heaven and is denied entry, then none of the rest of us will get in!”
The insights offer a glimpse behind the activist whose transformation from a clergyman to a global icon is traced alongside family snapshots and pictures of apartheid brutality.
“Emotionally and mentally, Bishop Tutu and I are very close. I call him my spiritual older brother,” said Tibet’s Dalai Lama.
Copies of letters to apartheid rulers and handwritten extracts of his notes reveal his relentless fight for democracy and his instinctive humanity.
A 1985 missive to FW de Klerk, who would become apartheid’s last ruler, demands a passport to replace a document listing Tutu’s nationality as “undeterminable at present”.
The archbishop then goes on to blast the “policy of apartheid as utterly evil, unChristian and immoral” before signing off with “God bless you”.
“I developed tremendous respect for his fearlessness. It wasn’t fearlessness of a wild kind. It was fearlessness anchored in his deep faith in God,” De Klerk said in the book.
Tutu’s trademark playfulness is dotted throughout the book by his youngest daughter Mpho and veteran journalist Allister Sparks.
Mogul Richard Branson recalls teaching him how to swim, Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi calls him a “sort of giggle-maker”. The book also recalls his needless asking for directions in 1960s Britain, just to be called “sir” by a white policeman.
Irish rocker Bono describes the archbishop leading his unsuspecting band on their first meeting from his Cape Town office to a packed hall before smiling and telling the crowd “Here are U2 to sing for you”.
Intimate peeks are offered in moments like a tender airport hug with beloved wife Leah, the “Arch” outstretched on the floor taking a nap, and the couple kneeling to be blessed on their 25th wedding anniversary.
“When I was in high school, I thought he looked smashing! I don’t know whether he looked smashing because he was the headmaster’s son or whether it was really a crush,” said Leah.
Yet, there is also a bluntness about the realities of Tutu’s personal life.
“It’s a challenge,” said Leah, who admits to throwing clods of earth and fruit at tourist buses gawking over her fence in Soweto. “Yes, there’s definitely a challenge living with Desmond.”
Bob Geldof calls him a showman and the “smallest giant I’ve ever met”.
“For those in power, Arch is a complete pain in the arse,” he says. “He calls it as he sees it and he never shuts up.”
One of the most personal accounts is from Mandela’s current wife Graca Machel, who speaks of sometimes becoming “overwhelmed” with her responsibilities, especially to her famous husband.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m too small to know how to do the right thing. At these times, I will approach the Arch and he will give me the guidance I need to make me feel that everything is fine. So he has a very special — a very very special — place in my life.” — AFP/Relaxnews