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Defacing of Tutu mural a reminder that curse of racism still exists in SA: Ramphele

Archbishop Desmond Tutu breaks down in tears at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1997. File photo.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu breaks down in tears at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1997. File photo.
Image: Sunday Times/Raymond Preston

A racist slur scribbled on a landmark mural of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in Cape Town is a sign that SA still has a long way to go towards restoring humanity.

Dr Mamphele Ramphele, acting chairperson of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Trust, said this on Sunday in reaction to the words “Ek is ‘n k****r” scrawled on the mural.

The words, in red, were scribbled over Tutu’s glasses.

Racism is a curse SA must escape. We have enough problems on our plate,
Dr Mamphele Ramphele 

“For this hatred to be repeated, decades later, by someone scrawling, ‘Ek is 'n k****r’, on a mural of the archbishop in central Cape Town, casts a slur on our democracy. It speaks to the work still ahead to complete the journey, his journey, to restore our humanity,” said Ramphele.

She said sadly, Tutu was no stranger to such abuse.

“In the 1980s at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle Tutu was regularly threatened by hatemongers, including the security police. His family received horrible phone calls, he was the target of graffiti — and in one unsavoury incident, in 1989, a baboon foetus was hung outside their home in an attempt, police later said, to bewitch him,” said Ramphele.

“Despite the archbishop’s consistent advocacy for nonracialism, justice, compassion and love, because of the prominence of his position in the church and the struggle, he was widely reviled in white society. If looks could kill he would have been dead many times over, he has often said,” she added.

Ramphele said this incident came at a time when the nation should be preparing to celebrate Tutu, who turns 90 on October 7.

“He is the grandfather of the nation, and a global symbol of peace and righteousness,” Ramphele said.

“Racism is a curse SA must escape. We have enough problems on our plate, including radical inequality in wealth and living standards still largely tracking the social, economic and environmental hierarchies of the past. We must work through unresolved reverberations from the past to build an inclusive nation at peace with itself and its humanity. A nation of conscious, critical thinking and educated citizens. That is an objective worthy of pursuing to honour the arch on his 90th birthday, and to honour ourselves,” she added.

Brett Herron of the GOOD party agreed.

He called for the culprit behind the slur to be identified and prosecuted. Herron said the person was most likely captured by the city’s security cameras.

“The city must work with police to track the perpetrator down, and the criminal justice system must do its work to send a clear message to other racists that there are serious consequences for acts of racism and hate speech,” said Herron.

He added that denigrating Tutu could be likened to denigrating the entire country.

“There is no place for racism anywhere in the world, but specially not in postapartheid SA, one of the most unequal societies on earth where inequality is still defined largely by race. Acts of racism undermine precious unity and cohesion in a country that can ill-afford further division,” said Herron.

Herron said he believed he spoke on behalf of most Capetonians when saying they would be horrified by the incident. 

“It is incumbent on each and every one of us who calls this city home to advance common purpose and defend the principle of nonracialism,” Herron added.