South Africa

Faced with moral indefensibility, Desmond Tutu un-friends Tony Blair

By Khadija Patel 29 August 2012

On Tuesday, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu pulled out of the Discovery Leadership Summit, citing his refusal to share a platform with former British prime minister, Tony Blair. Tutu, a Nobel peace laureate, said Blair's support of the Iraq war was "morally indefensible". By KHADIJA PATEL.

In a statement released by his spokesperson Roger Friedman on Tuesday, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu revealed that he had decided against participating in the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit on Thursday.  “Ultimately, the Archbishop is of the view that Mr Blair’s decision to support the United States’ military invasion of Iraq, on the basis of unproven allegations of the existence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, was morally indefensible,” the statement said. 

“The Discovery Invest Leadership Summit has leadership as its theme. Morality and leadership are indivisible. In this context, it would be inappropriate and untenable for the Archbishop to share a platform with Mr Blair.”

The decision could not have been an easy one, and Tutu’s spokesperson has been careful to stress that it did not come as a sudden flight of fancy. Speaking to the British publication New Statesman, Friedman noted that Tutu was “a very prayerful man” who would have “spent hours on his knees considering this decision,” adding as well that he did not usually make hasty decisions. “He thinks and prays and then acts. That’s how he’s always done things, including during the Struggle.”

Blair’s office in London was prompt to respond to Tutu’s withdrawal saying Blair was “sorry” that he had decided to pull out of the summit. According to Blair’s spokesperson, Iraq has always been a divisive issue between Blair and Tutu. “As far as Iraq is concerned, they have always disagreed about removing (former Iraqi President) Saddam (Hussein) by force – such disagreement is part of a healthy democracy,” the spokesman is reported to have said to Reuters.

“These decisions are never easy morally or politically.”

Tutu’s decision has received a mixed response from South Africans, with many commending him, but a fair number also criticised him. For their part, the Society for the Protection of the Constitution, who have launched an urgent application with the National Prosecuting Authority to have a warrant of arrest issued for Blair for the allegedly illegal authorisation of the Iraq War, have warmly commended Tutu’s withdrawal from the summit. 

“Tutu is a man of God, a man of peace and a man of justice,” Muhammed Vawda, Secretary for The Society For The Protection Of Our Constitution said. “He is known for being forthright and fearless against wrongs and oppressive conduct. It is in this light that we salute the Archbishop in his stance (taken) towards Blair by withdrawing from the summit.”

On Tuesday evening the organisation also revealed they had obtained a case number for the complaint against Blair lodged with the NPA. The statement also goes on to describe the readiness of the South African judicial system to hear such a case against Blair, but the most curious part of the statement is a detour into the murky underworld of ANC politics. 

“President Zuma’s administration strengthens our democracy by upholding the independence of the Three Arms Of Government and in particular the Executive arm and the judicial arm with respect to South Africa taking praiseworthy steps in honouring and materialising its agreement with the UN and adhering to the requirements of the Rome Statute in terms of the international crimes case facing Tony Blair,” Vawda said in the statement. 

He went on to deride Mbeki for visiting Blair in London and then failing to live up to his obligations to international law by not holding Blair accountable for war crimes on a platform for international law. 

“Mbeki, who frequented 21 Downing Street (sic) very often and purported to be and still purports to be an AU (African Union) man; who is also a ‘law-man’ (lawyer); failed in structuring South African Administration in terms of such international commitments attached to the UN and ICC (International Criminal Court) in so far as it concerns our Judiciary and Executive. Yet it is no secret that at this ICC only action is taken against members of the AU. Where did Mbeki’s loyalties lie, in his pipe that burnt English tobacco or in his ‘roots’ whereupon the soil grows African tobacco?” Vawda asked. 

The organisation is said to have been made up of ANC supporters, so is this little drama about Blair a ruse by fringe members of the Zuma-faction to drum up support for their man ahead of Mangaung? Or is it a desperate plea by a group of ANC supporters to be noticed by their man? 

“The question is, why did Mbeki as an Africanist with legal background keep our country ‘backwards’ in the eyes of the world and the UN in terms of these requirements?” Vawda put it to Daily Maverick. “If Zuma’s administration takes steps in order to help international justice where Mbeki never did, then surely Msholozi (Zuma) should be acknowledged.”

Vawda also confirmed that the organisation consisted of ANC supporters. “Yes, we support the ANC who also know what it means to oppose the oppressive conduct at the hands of inter alia the British,” he said. It could as well be that fawning over Zuma in this manner is actually an entreaty from the organisation for Zuma’s help in this campaign against Blair. 

And though Zuma’s attention, or help, may not be forthcoming, Tutu’s withdrawal from the summit and his subsequent comments about Blair’s involvement in the Iraq war have lent this campaign against Blair a more global credibility. 

When Guardian columnist George Monbiot first set up the website, he conceded that attempts to arrest Blair would be symbolic, raising awareness of the campaign and currying political support for an actual movement towards a judicial process. “At this stage the arrests will be largely symbolic, though they are likely to have great political resonance. But I hope that as pressure builds up and the crime of aggression is adopted by the courts, these attempts will help to press governments to prosecute. There must be no hiding place for those who have committed crimes against peace. No civilised country can allow mass murderers to move on,” Monbiot wrote.

Tutu’s withdrawal may prove a critical moment in the build-up of pressure on international governments and the institutions of international justice to pay attention to the movement calling for Blair’s prosecution for war crimes. An actual arrest and prosecution may yet be a pipedream for these activists, but the withdrawal of Tutu could be seen as a stamp of approval for their campaign. DM

Read more:

  • Call to arrest Tony Blair during SA visit gains momentum in Daily Maverick

Photo: Reuters


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