“Do your little bit of good where you are, it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu was one of South Africa’s most renowned human rights activists and one of Africa’s five Nobel laureates. He was known as a voice for voiceless Black people during and after the apartheid era, and his work for human rights prioritised equality, a just society without racial divisions, and a common education system for all.
The late Nobel laureate passed away on Dec. 26, 2021 at the age of 90 and was laid to rest on Jan. 2, 2022 at the Cape Town St George’s cathedral. The anti-apartheid campaigner, peace veteran, and Nobel Prize winner of 1984 will be remembered for his spiritual leadership, his infectious laugh, and for his resilient fight for a unified South Africa. As such, we must continue to work towards making sure that the country sees true unity, as Tutu himself would have wanted.
South Africa is fast approaching 30 years of political liberation but we still have significant issues to work through in our “rainbow nation” — an expression that Tutu was credited for creating that describes a racially united South Africa — before we can attain true liberation for all. The democratic nation remains the most unequal country in the world and, according to the South African government, key issues that the country faces today include, but are not limited to, access to education, gender-based violence, corruption, and a division within our own society.
Our young democracy has been consistently faced with overcoming the shadow of inequality left by apartheid and the effects of the predemocratic laws that have deepened injustices. This is due to the fact that when apartheid was denounced, those who were oppressed were still left to deal with the repercussions of a divided system that lasted 46 years, and before that, a legacy of colonialism that began in the 17th century.
The year 1994 introduced the end of our old apartheid problems and the beginning of new post-apartheid problems. Previously disadvantaged groups are those classified as Black, Indian, and Coloured in the racial divide and Black people alone account for 81% of South Africa’s population. However, it is this group that has the highest unemployment rates, with Black Africans in South Africa facing a 41% unemployment rate as opposed to white Africans, whose unemployment rate is 6%.
This inequality can also be seen in our public service system. According to Amnesty International, Black people are burdened with poor education and health systems that do not have equal access and allocation of resources as compared to white people.
In order to make sure that our republic uplifts people in poverty, just as the beloved Archbishop spent his whole life fighting for, we need to make sure that we fight against one of the hindrances we have to equality: corruption.
In his lifetime, Tutu reprimanded the ruling party’s leadership incompetence. He identified that the government could be able to close the gap of inequality if it were to use state funds for what they were allocated for.
Above this, there is also a need to prioritise the marginalised people of South Africa who lack resources and access to opportunity because the government left the land and other key assets in the hands of the predominantly white elite after the apartheid regime had been dismantled. A move that has resulted in a generational inequality the country still grapples with to this day.
As South Africans and citizens of the world we can take the baton Tutu handed us and make sure that we do our little bit of good wherever we are and whenever we can. If we can join forces for good and stand against injustice and corruption to empower the most vulnerable, we will be able to change our country for the better.
This can be done by holding governments and world leaders accountable by ensuring that every child has access to safe and quality education, working with our government to accelerate job creation and equalising workers’ salaries and wages, and by protecting the women and girls of South Africa from the discrimination and gender-based violence that they have unjustifiably been burdened with.
Another way that we can carry on Tutu’s legacy is by leading by example towards something you truly believe in. For example, Tutu pledged to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to help combat vaccine hesitancy, he also educated the youth as a high school teacher, and mentored the world as a spiritual teacher. Even his funeral was a testament to his life’s dedication with his decision to be aquamated — an environmentally-friendly alternative to cremation.
His is a legacy that I believe speaks volumes to the concept of Ubuntu — a South African concept that comprises compassion and humanity and says that “I am because we are”.
He fought for a non-segregated society, human rights, and a world free of inequality in a peaceful manner and with a spirit of forgiveness. The Archbishop's life taught us that we have the power within us, no matter who we are, to fight for human rights for all and change our world for the better. Tutu’s legacy of Ubuntu is the blueprint for Global Citizens to follow in demanding equity and defeating poverty.