Palestine has lost a champion of the struggle against Israeli apartheid with the death today of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, aged 90.
Tutu is known internationally as a leader of the struggle against while minority rule in South Africa and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work reconciling South Africans after the end of its brutal apartheid regime.
He was the moral conscience of the country and sometimes highly critical of South Africa’s ANC-led government saying that some in the ANC leadership had stopped the apartheid gravy train “just long enough to jump on”.
Relationship with New Zealand
Archbishop Tutu was a warm friend of New Zealand and many New Zealanders across our political divides will feel a deep sadness at his passing.
In the early 1980s when Tutu faced court action from the South African authorities, a delegation of church leaders from New Zealand, led by former Anglican Archbishop of Aotearoa New Zealand, the late Sir Paul Reeves, went to South Africa in an act of international solidarity. This was deeply appreciated by Tutu.
During the protests against the 1981 Springbok tour one of the three Auckland protests squads was called Tutu Squad in his honour.
Later he came to New Zealand and at one point gave evidence as an expert witness on apartheid during a trial arising from 1981 tour protests. Such was his charisma, his mana and the deep respect he commanded everywhere that when he was called to the witness stand by Hone Harawira the entire courtroom stood.
In this case all the activists on trial were acquitted after the jury deliberated.
Support for Palestinians
Tutu was outspoken against injustices all around the world and in particular he condemned the racist policies faced by Palestinians from the Israeli regime. He frequently described Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as “worse” than that suffered by black South Africans.
He said international solidarity with Palestinians such as through BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is critical to ending injustices like apartheid.
“I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing in the Holy Land that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under apartheid,” said Tutu.
“We could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through… non-violent means, such as boycotts and disinvestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime”
In relation to Israeli policies towards Palestinians Tutu said the world should “Call it apartheid and boycott!”
In honouring Tutu’s legacy, freedom-loving people around the world should follow his advice and spurn Israel till everyone living in historic Palestine has equal rights.
Aotearoa New Zealand, the Palestinian struggle and the world have lost a dear friend and a great humanitarian.