As the world looks at South Africa to honour the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela there is another extraordinary South African whose contribution to world peace has recently been honoured. Last month, on the 25th November I was among those present at Mansion House when a special meeting of the Court of Common Council of the City of London was convened for the grant of the Honorary Freedom to the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa in recognition of his exceptional contribution to peace and social justice in South Africa and throughout the World. As a young girl back in the 1960s the Master of my Livery Company, Miss Sally Muggeridge, came to know a curate in her North London parish. That was Desmond Tutu. He became her mentor and she is now a Trustee of the Desmond Tutu foundation. Knowing that Desmond was due to visit London on an increasingly rare visit she suggested to the Court of Aldermen that it would be opportune to recognise his considerable contribution to world peace with the Honorary Freedom of the City of London.
The Freedom of the City of London is not an honour and can be purchased. To become a liveryman in a livery company it is necessary to do this and so I have the Freedom of the City of London. But an Honorary Freedom is an honour and is only rarely conferred. I was among those privileged to be invited to witness the ceremony at Mansion House. The Court proceeded to confer the Freedom upon Archbishop Desmond Tutu with all due ceremony.
The Chamberlain delivered an Address to the Archbishop as follows:-
“Archbishop Tutu, My Lord Mayor, Aldermen, Sheriffs, Chief Commoner, Ladies and Gentlemen. Today we confer the greatest gift the ancient and august City of London Corporation can give, the Honorary Freedom. It is one we award sparingly, because it is reserved for those who have made an exceptional contribution, rendered outstanding service and provided exceptional leadership and inspiration. On some occasions it is conferred upon leaders of nations, and few who were there will forget the dignity, grace and warmth displayed by President Mandela, when he received the honorary freedom during his visit in 1996. On other occasions it is conferred upon Royalty, such as members of our own Royal Family, whether that is the late Queen Mother or Her Majesty the Queen herself.
Today we honour a man who is great, not in the trappings of state or the riches of success. But he is great in heart, great in spirit, and great in the generosity he has shown throughout his remarkable life: to the afflicted and oppressed of his own nation and throughout the world, and to those who oppressed him, and so many of his fellow countrymen and women. It is a model of leadership driven by the message of the Gospels he holds so dear, that to lead is to be last of all and to be the servant of all. In every day of his life, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has sought reconciliation, forgiveness and truth and turned away from rancour and violence. That is the case in South Africa, but his example also played no small part in contributing to the peace process in Northern Ireland, and ending a time of trouble that caused such damage to the City of London itself. He has lived a towering life, full of grace, mercy and truth. It is a life lived as a fiery pillar of social justice. It has inspired and lit up the lives of millions.
This City depends on capital and how it is allocated to support business, the finance that is vital in creating jobs, growth and prosperity here in London, across the United Kingdom and across the world. Archbishop Desmond Tutu deploys a different kind of capital, a spiritual capital, driven by his unwavering faith, a faith rooted in the belief that we are all, men and women, from whatever background, from whatever country, of whatever ethnicity, made to share common bonds, a common life, a common culture; to share in a community. It is a faith rooted in the Anglican Church into which he was ordained, but also in the spirit of Ubuntu, as he has described it, “the human spirit saying I am, because you are” of the bonds we all share and the responsibilities we have one to another.
He has said that “there are no ordinary people in my theology” a tribute to his wholly admirable view that each one of us is inherently valuable, distinctive and extraordinary. It is a most excellent doctrine. But I venture to suggest on behalf of us all that he is more extraordinary than most! And his extraordinary life has brought him global recognition, including the Nobel Peace Prize, and brings him here today.
It has been our privilege that he has chosen to spend time in London throughout his life and ministry, studying at Kings College, serving as a curate in North London and within the Diocese of Southwark, and engaging and speaking within the City of London itself, on peace, reconciliation and building cohesive communities; in unveiling the statue by Michael Visocchi at Aldgate; and, most recently, in receiving the Templeton Prize at the medieval Guildhall earlier this year.
Today the City of London honours Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but we who are gathered here represent hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens who love and admire him and who cherish the contribution he has made as a beacon of all that is good and true. In expressing a hope that he might retire from an active role in public life in 2010 he commented that “too much of my time has been spent at airports and in hotels”. Many of us in this most international, most diverse of cities know that weariness all too well. Thus we are all the more grateful that he should be with us today. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, it is my honour to ask you to sign our Roll of Fame and record for posterity the honour you do us today.
On behalf of the Lord Mayor, Commonalty and Citizens of this City in Common Council Assembled, I ask you to accept this resolution. They trust you will regard it as evidence of their recognition of your exceptional contribution to peace and social justice in South Africa and throughout the World.
I now have the privilege and honour as Chamberlain of this great and ancient City to offer you the right hand of fellowship and greet you as a Citizen of London.“
The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Republic of South Africa replied as follows:
“My Lord Mayor, I should like to express my huge appreciation and gratitude for the kind words to me, my wife and my family spoken by the Chamberlain on behalf of the City and Corporation of London. We are most honoured by the generous and warm hospitality of the City of London for the second time this year as has already been mentioned. Indeed, it was only in May this year that I was privileged to be in the City of London, at Guildhall, to receive the Templeton Prize. It is always a pleasure for Leah and me to be in London. For that is where we first came as a family in 1962 as I had been appointed as curator of St Alban’s Church in Golders Green. There we were warmly welcomed into the Christian arms of many wonderful people including a very young Sarah Muggeridge, now Master of the Worshipful Company of Marketors in the City of London and a founder Trustee of the Tutu Foundation UK. It is Sarah who brought me here today and it is wonderful to be among so many of our friends that I have seen in the audience.
Like many of my fellow South Africans, I had been brought up in a tradition of love for Great Britain and its democratic institutions. But at the time of coming to London in the 1960s my wife and I were not free people in our own country. We relished the freedom and respect that London offered me and my family. I have often recounted how we particularly liked asking for directions from your wonderful British bobbies, even when we knew where we were going. What a pleasure to be addressed politely as sir and my wife as madam.
In London I studied for my Bachelor’s degree in Theology and gained my Master’s at Kings College. I visited my Alma Mater again last week and was delighted to see that splendid institution thriving under the continuing stewardships of its Principal Sir Rick Trainor and its Dean, The Rev. Professor Richard Burridge. It’s also good for the ego to see my face large and prominent in one of the windows of the building at Aldwych where there is a Students' bar in the College called Tutu’s.
Prior to my return to South Africa we moved from North London to a ministry in leafy Surrey at St Mary’s Church, Bletchingley and we made many more friends there, some of whom are with us today.
My peace and reconciliation work has been mentioned. The Tutu Foundation UK was launched six years ago as a continuation of this. The Foundation’s mission is to transform lives and communities here in the UK by building peace, respect, understanding and connections between people of different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. The South African concept of Ubuntu, also mentioned, shows how we can be fully human, only when we value and appreciate one another, recognising that what we have in common is far greater than the differences between us.
Individuals in communities are best placed to identify the issues of tension and conflict within them and find their own practical solutions. To this end, the Tutu Foundation provides a safe space for community members to engage constructively with each other and encourages collective action to build bridges across the divides. I’m glad to pay a warm tribute to its trustees and staff, present and past.
What an honour to be granted Honorary Freedom of this great City. Much of my life, like that of my dear friend, Nelson Mandela, has been in pursuit of freedom in South Africa and elsewhere. I note that one of the traditional associations with the Freedom of the City of London is that of the privilege of driving sheep over London Bridge. In a sense I have perhaps been acting with others such as Trevor Huddleston and many others, all my life as a shepherd with a difficult flock, needing to be driven in the right direction.
My Lord Mayor, may I once again thank you for the honour you and the City of London have bestowed on me before I return this afternoon with my family to Cape Town. I leave as a citizen of this principal commercial global capital with happy memories, of this occasion and a deep sense of gratitude. Thank you all.”
These were the formal speeches that were recorded in the minutes of the meeting but Desmond went on to deliver some further impromptu remarks that were even more moving. This was the week that the General Synod was again considering the thorny issue of women bishops. Desmond spoke with both passion and humour on this issue encouraging all of us to recognise the role that women should play in a civilised society. I count myself as privileged to have been there and to have the chance to meet this great man. It was he who was honouring us.
Copyright David C Pearson 2013 All rights reserved