Peter Burdin's Tribute to Archbishop Tutu

Peter Burdin's tribute to Archbishop Tutu


                               Peter with Archbishop Tutu and Sue MacGregor of the BBC

On Sunday 2nd January 2022 we were delighted that our church member, Peter Burdin, was able to deliver this personal tribute to Archbishop Tutu.  Here is the text of what he shared with us:

I’d like to share a few thoughts on the passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in my capacity as a Trustee of the Tutu Foundation in the UK where we work with inner-city youth  with the support of our guiding light Archbishop Tutu’s grand-daughter Mungi.

My relationship with the Tutu family goes back quite a few years. As the BBC’s Africa Bureaux chief based in South Africa  I was fortunate enough  to interview him on several occasions  – and to watch him in action at close quarters as he confronted injustice, and challenged South Africa’s Apartheid regime to  dismantle its repressive laws based on racial inequality and to embrace a new democracy  in which all South Africans –black and white- had the vote and equal rights.

So many times I marvelled at his great humanity as I witnessed his courage to speak out and take direct action against some of the most brutal and dehumanising acts of those years of Apartheid. He marched at the front on countless demonstrations and when the police confronted him he’d say: “I’m not breaking the law, I’m obeying God’s law”.

I think one of the darkest hours that I saw came in Cape Town when four militants  from the so-called Azanian Peoples Liberation Army walked into St James church during the Sunday service armed with AK47 rifles. They  fired indiscriminately on the worshippers, killing 11 people and injuring 50.

Everyone in South Africa and around the world  was plunged into  deep despair – we’d suffered so many massacres before but this latest attack inside a church took things down to what Archbishop Tutu called  “the bottom of depravity”.

The very next day he called an inter-faith service at the City Hall and  thousands of mourners rallied to hear him speak. He said these words which I will never forget when he told them:

“If these evil men think that they have succeeded in dividing us, let us say to them: “NO YOU HAVE FAILED, you have succeeded only in bringing us together”

Then he issued this plea for unity, and he began with his now famous phrase when he said:

“We are the Rainbow People of God. We are beautiful, we are unstoppable, black and white, as we move together to freedom, to justice, to democracy, to peace, to reconciliation, to healing, to loving and to laughter and joy”.

With this Cri de Coeur he lifted up everyone’s spirits, taking us from abject despair to hope for a better future,  and that was the moment when everyone knew that the killers were destined to be on the losing side of history.

He spoke out strongly against all injustice…. And remained committed to forgiveness. It’s no surprise that the book he wrote after he Chaired South Africa’s post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission was entitled

 “ No Future Without Forgiveness”…..

and that was a message he took out into the world - to Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Rwanda, Tibet and beyond where he sought to support solutions to those  conflicts.

We have lost a great leader  but his spirit lives on. He was perhaps the most human human I’ve ever met – he was – and remains- an inspiration to us all.

One amazing example of his great humanity was how in spite of the dark days he lived through  he never lost his sense of humour or his playfulness:

I remember interviewing him once at his Archbishop’s Palace in Cape Town. At the end of the interview we posed for a formal photograph with him but at the critical moment he pulled up his cassock to reveal a bright blue tee-shirt with the slogan “Just Call Me Arch” blazoned across the front.

I remember watching him vote in that 1994 election which brought his friend Nelson Mandela to power as South Africa’s first democratically elected President. After putting his vote into the ballot box he turned to our cameras and leapt into the air shouting “ I want to shout Whoopee and sing and dance and jump for joy”.

At the age of sixty-seven the Arch had just voted for the first time in his life after a lifetime of being disenfranchised simply because of the colour of his skin.

Then, he adopted a more sombre tone,  and he drew a line under those hard years of Apartheid and oppression when he asked us this one short question:

“Why were we so stupid for so long?”.

Archbishop Tutu had a respect for all faiths. His close friendship with the Buddhist Dalai Lama as demonstrated in their Book Of Joy is testament to his ecumenical theology.

He was a true believer in the African spiritual concept of Ubuntu which states that human beings need each other in order to be fully human… Ubuntu says we ARE our brother’s keeper and we can only be truly human when we are together.

In Zulu  the definition of Ubuntu is:


Which translates as “ a person is a person through other persons”

Or as Archbishop Tutu often used to put it:

 “No man is an island”.

It’s a belief we use here in this country at our Tutu Foundation UK in our work with disaffected young people in inner city communities. We bring them together  with the local police  and seek to build and develop mutual trust between them.

We call them our Ubuntu Round-tables. At them we seek to lower tensions between the youth and the police and bring about a greater understanding of each other’s hopes and fears and frustrations – All our workshops are  based on the techniques Archbishop Tutu employed in South Africa to try to bring divided communities closer together.

One final memory if I may: Whenever we interviewed Arch, before we switched on our cameras he always insisted on saying this prayer and I’d like to share it with you this morning:

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit and they shall be made new and you will renew the face of the earth. Amen”

It is very fitting that our next hymn – is a South African hymn and one of Archbishop Tutu’s favourites – As we sing out let’s remember what he taught us:

 that we are all THE RAINBOW PEOPLE OF GOD: