Friday, July 23, 2010

The Arch calls it a day

One of the most Gracious and sweetest men in South Africa has decided to retire. The Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu announced yesterday

South Africa is to lose a voice of reason and reconciliation that has guided the country through turbulent times for the past 30 years.

Yesterday Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu announced he will be retiring from public life on his birthday in October.
At a packed press conference the beloved church leader said the day he introduced Nelson Mandela as the country's first democratically elected president, he thought: "God, if I die now I don't really mind."

This is the highlight of his career, which has spanned decades and which he has spent, according to him, contributing to the development of a "new democratic, exhilarating, exasperating nation".

Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner turns 79 on October 7.

During a press conference at St George's Cathedral in the city centre, Tutu often joked and laughed as he explained his reasons for stepping out of the limelight.

His infectious giggles kept journalists laughing, but at least one was overcome with emotion and had to blink away tears as Tutu spoke.

Instead of being constantly on the move, he said he wanted to "wind down".

"I've always longed for more contemplating, for more quiet, to catch up on my reading ... The time has now come to slow down, to sip Rooibos tea with my beloved wife in the afternoons, to watch cricket, to travel to visit my children and grandchildren, rather than to conferences and conventions and university campuses."

Tutu said the "best decision" of his life had been getting married to Leah, his wife of 55 years.

"I pay tribute to my wife ... Now I will have time to serve her hot tea in the mornings as any doting husband should."

Asked if he had any regrets, Tutu chuckled.

"I still do have a tiny bit of me that wants to have been able to use a stethoscope ... I hoped to become a physician. Each time I see those white coats, a little bit of me feels it...

"And maybe somebody might tell me what it is like to be tall."

Tutu said he had "crazy grandchildren" who would keep him on his toes in future. He would possibly miss his hectic schedule and the attention he attracted, but did not think he would crave it.

Throughout the years, he had met a number of high-profile people and had travelled around the world, but his family had always kept him humble.

"Even when I've been sitting in the Oval Office (the US president's official office), I kept pinching myself, asking: 'Is this really me?' I have a wife and children who have kept my head the right size. Just when I thought I was the cat's whiskers, they brought me back down."

So far, Tutu said South Africa had "done well".

"Obviously the difference between apartheid and democracy is like chalk and cheese. I've been a school teacher and like a teacher says: 'This student is doing well, but there's room for improvement.'

"I will go to my grave happily when I see us become what we have it in us to become. Caring. Compassionate. Gentle. More than anything else I long so much that we will become the country that we have it in us to become.

"A caring country, not maybe hugely successful, we may become that, but one where every single South African actually feels they matter. Even when they are poor they know they matter."

Tutu said if South Africa were a film, "we'd be a shoo-in for an Oscar".

Though he had prostate cancer, he was "as fine as I can hope to be".

"I don't propose to climb Table Mountain ... I don't intend to keel over at present."

He retired as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996 and again when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he chaired, wrapped up.

Since then his schedule had "grown increasingly punishing".

Tutu, who thanked his colleagues, doctors and all South Africans, said he would limit his time in the office to one day a week and honour existing appointments until the end of February.

He would still support the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in Cape Town and would continue to be involved with the Elders, a group of global leaders, and the Nobel Laureate Group.

He would step down as chancellor of the University of the Western Cape and as a member of the United Nations advisory committee on prevention of genocide.

"On the whole I'll shut up. But sometimes I might find I can't resist it," Tutu said with another chuckle.