Desmond Tutu: South Africa Losing Some Idealism

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says South Africa has failed to sustain the idealism that ended apartheid and its people seem to have lost their sense of right and wrong.

Delivering the Steve Biko Memorial Lecture at the University of Cape Town on Tuesday night, the Nobel Peace laureate asked why respect for the law, the environment and life itself were missing in the new South Africa.

"What has happened to us? It seems as if we have perverted our freedom, our rights into license, into being irresponsible. Rights go hand in hand with responsibility, with dignity, with respect for oneself and the other," Tutu said.

Tutu decried the rape of children, some as young as nine months, and South Africa's staggering murder rate, the second only to Colombia, and said it appeared the African reverence for life had been lost.

"Is it not horrendous ... for an adult man to rape a nine-month-old baby?" he said. "We are not appalled that some of us can chuck people out of moving trains because they did not join" a strike.

"What has come over us? Perhaps we did not realize just how apartheid has damaged us so that we seem to have lost our sense of right and wrong."

He was referring a recent national strike by security guards in which some non-striking workers were tossed off of trains. His reference to the rape of a child refers to a belief by some that having sex with a child can cure AIDS.

The lecture is an annual event in honor of Steve Biko, the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement who died in jail after being tortured and beaten by apartheid police.

Tutu, in his speech, recalled how a naked and comatose Biko was driven from Port Elizabeth on South Africa's far southern coast to Pretoria where he was shackled to a grate and left to die.

"He ... by rights should have been consigned to the oblivion reserved for all nonentities. But what is the reality? I was privileged to preach at his funeral, attended by diplomats and people from all corners of South Africa," Tutu said.

"We have a wonderful country and the best memorial to Steve Biko would be a South Africa where everyone respects themselves, has a positive self-image filled with a proper self-esteem and holds others in high regard," he said.

Instead, he said government officials now often act like those in the apartheid era.

"The fact of the matter is we still depressingly do not respect one another. I have often said black consciousness did not finish the work it set out to do," said Tutu.

He also called on South Africans to take care of their environment, to guard against xenophobia and the rise of ethnic divisions in society, and to respect the law.

"During our struggle against apartheid we refused to obey unjust laws because, rightly, we wanted to make South Africa ungovernable," said Tutu. "We have an obligation to obey the laws made by our own legislators. We should be dignified, law abiding citizens ... proud of our freedom won at such great cost. We should not devalue it."