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Moral conscience

Inequality is bound to bring instability: Desmond Tutu


Often called "South Africa's moral conscience", Archbishop Desmond Tutu, began his career as a teacher, leaving the profession after the passage of the Bantu Education Act of 1953, which enforced racial separation in South Africa's educational institutions. He went on to join the church, becoming the first black Anglican Dean of Johannesburg in 1975. Right up to the 1990s, Tutu was a prominent figure in his country's anti-apartheid movement and received the Nobel Prize for peace in 1984. He retired in 1996 as the archbishop of Cape Town. Now at 80, the activist lends support to a range of issues such as AIDS, homophobia, poverty and racism. He is also chairman of The Elders, a group of independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights. TOI-Crest caught up with the "Arch" on a recent visit to India

In 1994, just after South Africa's first multi-racial elections, you ticked off Nelson Mandela's African National Congress saying the new leaders had "stopped the gravy train only long enough to get on themselves". What is your view of the anticorruption movement in India?

We read in the papers last year about the anti-corruption movement led by a holy man (Baba Ramdev) and there were a lot of people in India who supported him. I got the sense that people here were tired of the fact that there were certain people who cream off most of the resources. . .

Corruption is a problem in South Africa as well as in India. Is this a malady all developing countries have to suffer?

I don't think corruption is something that has to happen. Under President Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, things were not that way at all. He offered very good leadership and was himself upright and honest. I think people have to learn that it is far better to be honest because if you are dishonest, you will be exposed. People are bound to wonder how such and such can afford a luxury car when his/her salary does not allow it. People are not stupid. They might not be educated, some of them, they may not have book education, but they are not stupid.

You said in 2004 that marginalisation of the poor had left South Africa sitting on a "powder keg". Many believe that India is focusing too much on growth and not enough on social welfare and this could lead to the same kind of unrest. Do you agree?

One has to be in the country longer to state that but we clearly need to do a great deal more to eradicate poverty. It's to a country's advantage to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. When it is wide - and it is wide in South Africa too;in fact, South Africa is the most unequal society in the world at present - you are going to have an unstable situation.

Look at what is happening globally, like the Occupy Wall Street movement. You see that there is instability in societies where there is the sense that some have it better than the others. This inequality also creates space for exploitation. People are speaking out, saying we are the 99 per cent. Societies are more stable in places which are more egalitarian. Look at what's happening in Greece, in Italy, in Europe in general;but you have less of that in the Scandinavian countries because they have, over the years, sought to create a relatively egalitarian society. I think we have to accept the fact that if we want stable societies - and societies that are progressive - we need to keep the gap between the classes narrow.

You've been an influential figure in South Africa's

anti-apartheid movement. What are your thoughts when you see contemporary South Africa?

There are many good things happening in South Africa, but there are very many, many things that should not be happening. One has a deep sadness about the things that should not be happening.

If there is one issue that needs to be addressed in South Africa, what would it be?

There must be accountability.

You're in India to draw attention to the evils of child marriage. . .

We've been concerned about the issue of gender equity, the fact that there is discrimination against women, and we have zeroed in on the matter of child marriage. (Former Norway PM) Dr Gro Brundtland, (former Irish president) Mary Robinson and I went to Ethiopia last year as part of The Elders to try and encourage people to take steps towards ending this custom.

Do you have a solution for child marriage?

(Laughs) We don't have a solution in the sense that we come around and say, this is the solution. We meet people and we may sometimes make suggestions.

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