The spotlight of the Nobel Prize, coupled with the events of recent weeks, has brought Johannesburg Bishop-elect Desmond Tutu into great public prominence lately, but if you missed the flurry of television interviews that followed the Oct. 16 announcement of his winning the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize (including his appearance on yesterday's "This Week With David Brinkley"), it would be well worth your while to acquaint yourself with the bishop at 10 o'clock tonight on Channel 32.
Not only is the bishop's message timely, but he also proves to be black South Africa's most compelling voice today.
Tonight's one-hour special, entitled "Bishop Tutu: A Man and His Mission," is a tape of Tutu's Nov. 7 speech before the Howard University School of Divinity upon receiving a doctorate of humane letters and a WHMM interview conducted by ABC reporter George Strait. In both appearances, Tutu's cogent argument for black emancipation is enhanced by his charisma.
Aided by politicians and the media, Tutu has ridden the crest of an unprecedented wave of anti-apartheid demonstrations that began in Washington and are spreading elsewhere in the country.
Tutu, who met with President Reagan Friday, has made no secret of his view of the Reagan policy of "constructive engagement," which attempts to encourage changes in South African racial policies through diplomatic channels instead of through punitive actions, such as economic sanctions. The Howard speech and Strait interview reinforce Tutu's objections: " Apartheid is the system, ladies and gentlemen," he tells the Howard University audience, "with which the Reagan administration has collaborated, helping the white minority South African government to grow increasingly intransigent. And I am fearful for the next four years." The reputation of the Reagan administration among South African blacks is "mud," he tells Strait, and its policy nothing better than a "mollycoddling of the power structure" which will lead to "unmitigated disaster." By this he means a bloodbath.
Tutu points to new insidious levels of totalitarianism in South Africa. When a black activist is "banned," for instance, it means that person is forbidden communication with more than one person at any time, cannot attend such functions as weddings or funerals of family members, and must remain housebound on weekends and from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. during the week. The concept of habeas corpus is, at best, an afterthought.
Tutu obviously has described the atrocities of the government in every way possible. He has realized that ironic humor is the most effective method for illustrating them.
"Many have died mysteriously," he says. "And you ask sometimes, 'How did they die?' 'Oh, he was sitting on a chair and he fell off the chair and he died.' " Tutu pauses before declaring, "We have very strange chairs in South Africa."
Bishop Tutu's eyes can glint with an almost ungodly impishness when he points out such facts. It's a devastating political tool.
He is good television. Call him the Cape Town Communicator.