‘What’s for lunch?’ were his first words to our small group after the initial greetings.
‘Fish and chips’ replied Dee.
‘Ah! Wonderful!’ replied Desmond, ‘Just the sort of thing a black man would like to eat!’ He then burst into his infectious cackling laughter and proceeded to give Dee a big hug. ‘I can’t remember the last time I had fish and chips, it’s a real treat. Now tell me everything that’s been going on in Bletchingley.’
The next hour or so they reminisced about the village and people past and present. He had a million and one questions and his love and interest in individuals was so apparent despite the immense responsibilities he now had on his shoulders as the leading outspoken cleric against the apartheid regime.
I finally plucked up the courage to ask a sensitive question.
‘Desmond, how do you manage to remain so committed to a non-violent struggle when your people are so brutally treated by the white government in South Africa?’ I explained that I had spent a month living with a black family in Cape Town and had visited Soweto; witnessing the terrible conditions first hand.
He smiled and then pointed to Lady Mel and Dee. ‘These two fine people and Sir Uvedale helped me to jettison any bitterness to whites and my feelings of racial inferiority. Through their love and care for my family I overcame my habit of automatically deferring to whites. I have these dear ones to thank for that. They helped me to realise it’s not about black and white, it’s about love between humans. Equality and justice cannot exist unless we all see each other as equals.’
Then Desmond said he had a plane to catch and we took some photos and waved goodbye to one of the humblest, most vulnerable, loving and powerful people I have ever met. It was from this place in his heart that he was able to win over hatred and injustice with unconditional love. As he once said,
“We are made for loving. If we don’t love, we will be like plants without water.”
Desmond Tutu 7 October 1931 – 26 December 2021