Tutu and No_bob

So former Archbishop Desmond Tutu [or present Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, whatever an Emeritus might be] must be the most famous purple-dress-wearing man in the whole of Africa.

No_bob the yellow-and-white [yes, he’s still not nor ever has been blue] stuffed dolphin, is the world’s most famous stuffed dolphin [largely because the competition in that particular field is highly limited] and called No_bob because he doesn’t, well, bob.

It was inevitable that one day the two would meet. And by ‘inevitable’ i mean ‘highly unlikely’.

Yet, somehow they did.

And it really was one of the smallest and least significant moments of the last two days [but still quite fun, especially when you look at the panic’d GET-ME-OUT-OF-HERE look on his face]

WHAT WAS IT ALL ABOUT THEN?

For the last two days i was really privileged to be a witness to a meeting that was titled, ‘Revisiting The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Faith Community Hearing’ which was ‘a Consultation presented by the Beyers Naude Centre for Public Theology, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University in collaboration with the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.’

The original TRC, according to Wikipedia, ‘was a court-like restorative justice body assembled in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid. Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.’

A seeking out of Truth and Reconciliation after the tragic years of apartheid and following the miracle of the peaceful release of Nelson Mandela, the unbanning of the ANC and other organisations and the first free and fair elections that the majority of South Africans were for the first time eligible to take part in.

At the same time there was a TRC that happened specifically with the Faith Communities in mind in 1997, and this particular meeting was revisiting that in some way, giving Faith community representatives the opportunity to remember the testimony they had given then, as well as share where their community found themselves now in the process.

According to the Faculty of Theology in Stellenbosch website,

The aims of the re-enactment hearing are:

  • To put the process of reconciliation back on the main agenda of all faith communities in South Africa;
  • To make a significant contribution to reconciliation and national unity in the current South African context;
  • To contribute to the development of responsible and realistic reconciliation strategies for the faith communities, and offer practical suggestions on how to address the challenges of reconciliation and nation building in our land.

A VERY BASIC OVERVIEW

There is no way i can effectively put into words even a good summary of the last two day’s events, but i felt i needed to write something and so hopefully i can give some small glimpses and highlights or key points that came out.

The format, sandwiched between and introduction and closing remarks by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu [who i will refer to from now as ‘The Arch’ as everyone else seems to – he’s held No_bob so we should pretty much be on a nickname basis] and a time of reflection and audience participation at the end, was a large number of sections of different church denominational representatives, other faith representatives and one or two denominational network representatives sharing their thoughts both on the past meeting and where their group was now.

Each group was given thirty minutes which was meant to comprise 15 minutes of sharing and then some engagement and Q and A with the panel which was made up of Ms Yasmin Sooka, Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize, Ms Glenda Wildschut and Prof Piet Meiring, asking some questions and a time of response. Putting ministers and church leaders in front of a mic in a South African context meant that didn’t always happen to the program, but we did get through most of what was planned with some creativity and improvisational tea breaks.

As far as denominations went, among those who shared were the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Congregational, AFM and a number of the more traditionally Afrikaans churches like the NGK, NHK and more.  Then both TEASA [The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa] and SACC [The South African Council of Churches] shared as well as representatives from the Muslim, Hindu and Jewish communities. There were a few foreign representatives from Germany, Holland and Americaland who also played a smaller role in the program as well as some special guests who were invited to be witnesses and then comment towards the end.

A TWO BY TWO BY ANY OTHER NAME…

As i said, it is hard to even give a summary of the event, but it was an incredible one to be a part of. I went to both days and the beautiful Val [tbV] accompanied me on the second day , which was great as she got to meet the Arch who is one of her heroes and get a picture taken with him. But Desmond Tutu’s presence was definitely a highlight to proceedings. From the moment he grabbed the mic, he invoked a sort of stand-up comedy routine but had the abaility toimmediately became significantly serious, often in a moment, when he needed to.

From his opening line of, “I think God is very clever sometimes'”which had everyone in stitches, to the poignantcy of,“Sometimes we do have a nostalgia for when it was simple and you knew who your enemies were”.

From the comedy of, “I don’t know how many of you watched Special Assignment on Sunday night? No? Probably because you don’t like SABC very much” to an absolute room-stopping moment of silence and recognition of the various tragedies taking place around the world, “Our God is standing there crying. (Lists places with conflict around world) Because His children are so terrible sometimes.” The Arch knew how to use silences and pauses to really allow the truth to hit home and for that truth to be allowed to impact you deeply.

And finishing off his opening address with the question and invitation of: Can we try to find a way to wipe the tears from His eyes?

From creating moments of outright mirth during the middle of serious testimonies as someone says something slightly funny or perhaps ironic and suddenly a loud high-pitched ‘Hee Hee Hee’ breaks the silence from the front row where he sat watching… to standing up to go and hug the Afrikaans pastor who has broken down in tears after sharing a hectic testimony on behalf of a church who refused to take part in the 1997 meetings and would only allow him to attend the meetings in his personal capacity… to bringing the meeting full circle by announcing towards the end, that as the man who has ‘a hotline to God’, “I can see God smiling through the tears.” Conveying a sense of absolute hope without reducing the significance of the  huge walls and immense work that still needs to be done.

And of course agreeing to pose with a yellow-and-white stuffed dolphin for this strange white dreadlocked guy who managed to corner him.

[To continue to some of the live tweets that i composed that give a glimpse into some of the ideas that were shared, click here]

 

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