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The day I saw Desmond Tutu dance

During our interview in Barcelona, Tutu even sang some hymns that he remembered being sung at peaceful anti-apartheid demonstrations and rallies.

FEATURES AUTOR 316/Carla_Suarez 29 DE DICIEMBRE DE 2021 15:21 h
Carla Suárez with Desmond Tutu in Barcelona, in 2014. / Photo: Carla Suárez

It was May 2014 and I was in the last stage of my Master's Thesis in Musicology, writing down everything I had been researching for almost 2 years about the role of gospel music in South Africa's reconciliation processes.

For about 20 months, everything I read and saw in documentaries and films directly led me to two names: Nelson Mandela, the first black president of the “New South Africa” in 1994, and Desmond Tutu, chairman of the well-known Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

The former had died only a few months earlier, in December 2013, and of course I did not miss the massive funeral that several international television stations broadcast.

“What a pity, I couldn’t meet him for such a short time”, I thought to myself, between laughter and the illusion that I was witnessing a key moment for my research as well.

At that moment, I allowed myself to dream a little, and imagine myself having a personal conversation with Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Suddenly, almost by chance, I found out from the Catalan press that the government of Catalonia had awarded Desmond Tutu the International Prize of Catalonia, which was to be given in Barcelona at the beginning of June. Clearly, I couldn't miss it.

I started writing and calling everywhere I could think of to ask if there was even the slightest chance that I could attend the event, and hear in the front row what this Nobel Peace Prize winner whom I so admired, had to say to a country like Spain, with such a lack of ability for dialogue and reconciliation between wounded parties.

Thanks to contacts and brothers in countries as far away as Colombia, Canada and South Africa, God granted me even more than I had asked for: in addition to receiving an invitation to attend the event, Desmond Tutu set aside ten minutes in his very busy schedule to receive me in the reception of his hotel.

During the previous days and on the day of the award ceremony, Tutu made many television appearances and lectures on subjects as diverse as peace in South Africa, the question of Spain vs Catalonia, and the then recent abdication of King Juan Carlos I.

He always wore two characteristic elements that made him distinctive: his purple habit and his clerical collar.

However, on the day he met me, he let me see the man behind countless titles. He came down to the hotel reception in comfortable, dark-coloured clothes, so that he was unnoticed even to me.

We sat down, I turned on my tape recorder, and gave him the full control of a conversation that revolved around the TRC courts, and what interested me most: the gospel songs that marked an era and were able to help a whole broken and wounded country become aware of the need for forgiveness and reconciliation.

What was going to be ten minutes finally turned into almost an hour, where he even sang some hymns that he remembered being sung at peaceful anti-apartheid demonstrations and rallies.

But without a doubt, what struck me most about this very personal and intimate meeting was his gaze. Surrounded by wrinkles and the occasional grey hair still showing, his eyes sparkled with the tenderness and energy of someone who, despite his years and seniority, keeps alive an illusion: to see the “Rainbow Nation”, for which he has fought so hard all his life, become a reality.

I remember that, as we said goodbye, I confessed to him my desire to travel to South Africa in the future to continue my research, which at that time was only a first approach to the subject.

What I could not expect was how spontaneous, sincere and funny his response was. After a few moments of laughter, he looked at me sweetly and said, “My sister, I’m afraid I won’t be here by then”. And then he literally danced. I thought it was a very funny confession of his faith in Jesus.

And he was right, he will no longer be here. But glory be to God for the hope of eternal life that Christ gives us.

One of the phrases that stands out from my interview with him is that it would have been very difficult for South Africa to forgive if it had not been for its faith.

May this same faith that moved a whole country be the engine of the change our society needs.




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