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Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2014. (Image: Niklas Maupoix)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu represented everything that is good, and principled and magnificent about humankind. South Africa, the continent of Africa, the Cradle of Humankind and indeed the whole world has lost a prime example of everything that is great about us. Everything that is kind and loving. Everything that is truly great, in the dying of this light.

South Africa owes this man a huge debt of gratitude for our freedom from apartheid. It was his principled stand for the application of sanctions against the nationalist regime that played a significant part in its eventual downfall.

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu leaves his footprint in concrete at Maropeng in 2013.

I had the privilege of working as his priest for a number of years. On one occasion we were both in Wales - me as general secretary of the Christian Christian Council of Lesotho and he as a previous bishop of Lesotho (and of course, just because he was Desmond Tutu). It was in the early 1980s. Apartheid was operating at full, terrible force in our home country.

On one occasion during this visit to Wales, we were both in a huge stadium filled with Welsh people. There was a podium in the middle of the stadium. We needed to walk across the rugby field to get to the podium. He linked his arm in mine and we walked together.

The crowd was screaming and clapping for him. White people rapturous about this black man. He laughed as we walked and we waved at the crowd. And suddenly he stopped and shouted into my ear above the roar of the crowd: “Imagine if this is what South Africa could be!”

Some years ago, I wrote this poem about this incident:


Just before you go, old man

I have meant to say this thing,

This one thing

To you.

True, it is more about me

Than it is about you.

But for that you would not begrudge me,

I know.

There was once a field in Wales, which we both had to cross.

You the star attraction. You the hero.

You the reason for the roaring stands.

You, dazzling in speech and billowing in purple.

Me in black. Overwhelmed a bit. Wide eyed

And lost.

Come, you said. Come.

And you hooked your arm into mine and together, flapping cassocks in the wind, we crossed the pitch together.

The crowd roared and waved and sang.

We waved. We danced. We sang.

We reached the podium in the centre

arm in arm.

Black and white.

Clasping greedily at our unity

from a land where it could only last till daylight

and then die.

And as you spoke, those happy whitefaced crowds listened in silence.

In honour.

Can you imagine, you said to me, if this was at home?

Can you imagine!

And we laughed.

For peace was only peeking

over the far horizon then.

We could not know it,

but we could imagine it.

We could only

sing its tune

and hum its lullaby.

We did not know it, but we could

taste it in the air.

Before you go, old man

Let me just say this one thing

(You will not remember it. It was so small).

But when you took my arm

And walked with me across that Welsh field

You gave me

an armful

of simple humanity.

Humanity that I had lost.

©️Michael Worsnip

Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited the Sterkfontein Caves and Maropeng in 2013, and left his footprint in concrete at Maropeng.

Read more about that event:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu at Maropeng: Following the footsteps of humankind

Tutu leaves his mark on Maropeng