Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu (January 15, 1986)
Duration: 01:04:15

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Themes: Africa and African-Americans |

Guests: Desmond Tutu
Host : Charlayne Hunter-Gault
Producer : Ed Gordon, Deborah Mim, Carole Gibson, Leslie Paige, Dianne Hudson, Darryl Wood, Bill Page

Summary: In this live broadcast on January 15, 1986, special guest host Charlayne Hunter-Gault interviewed Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Bishop Tutu was visiting the United States to rally American opposition to the South African system of apartheid.

At the time of this interview, Nelson Mandela and other key leaders of the African National Congress were still imprisoned by the white South African government. Moreover, that government was still adamantly opposing any change to the country's policy of institutionalized racial segregation known as apartheid.

Responding to questions from Hunter-Gault, members of the studio audience, and telephone callers from around the nation, Bishop Tutu underscored the importance of American support for the struggle to end apartheid. He described the ways in which public pressure on multinational corporations, such as Shell Oil, from investors in the United States helped the cause, despite claims from the South African government that such pressure had no effect.

Bishop Tutu described the complexity of the fight against apartheid, the difficulty of getting the world's attention, as well as the reluctance of the U.S. government, under President Reagan, to apply direct pressure to the South African government. Of particular interest to American audiences was his discussion of the similarities - and the differences - between the South African struggle and the United States Civil Rights Movement. While both movements sought to promote social justice, he said, blacks in the United States had the advantage of a constitution that guaranteed, at least in theory, certain fundamental rights. "In South Africa," he said, "the constitution is against us."

From an instructional standpoint, this episode has several applications. For example, a world history or contemporary international issues course could use Bishop Tutu's interview to examine the history of South Africa and its apartheid system. Bishop Tutu discusses not only the impact of apartheid on South Africans, black and white, but also the nature of the struggle to end apartheid. At the time of the interview, the anti-apartheid struggle had already consumed several decades.

For an American history course, Bishop Tutu's comparison of the anti-apartheid movement with the American Civil Rights Movement helps illuminate the strategy of Dr. Martin Luther King and such organizations as the NAACP. It is an important illustration of a key element of movement strategy: to force the federal government to enforce the guarantees contained in the U.S. Constitution. Bishop Tutu's comments regarding the impatience of young South African protesters, also provides an interesting counterpoint to the divergence between Dr. King's movement and the Black Power Movement in the mid-1960s.

Bishop Tutu's comments would also be useful in an American history discussion of the history of U.S. foreign policy as it relates to so-called Third World nations and movements for national liberation or self-determination around the globe.

Background: Apartheid in South Africa
The 1948 general election in South Africa propelled Daniel F. Malan, the Afrikaner Nationalist party candidate, into leadership and oversight of the country. The regime immediately instituted apartheid laws for the purpose of separating the races and thus institutionalizing racial discrimination. The laws touched every aspect of social, economic, and political life for South Africans. This new regime was particularly devastating for the black majority of the country.

In 1950, the Population Registration Act required that all South Africans be racially classified into one of three categories: white (Afrikaner), black (African) which constituted 75% of the population, or colored which included groupings of Indians and Asians. All blacks were required to carry "pass books" containing fingerprints, identification photos, and information on their approved access to non-black areas.

In 1951, the Bantu Authorities Act established a basis for ethnic government in African reserves, known as "homelands." Between the passage of the Group Areas Acts of 1950 and 1986, about 1.5 million Africans were forcibly removed from cities to rural reservations. These homelands were independent states to which each African was assigned by the government according to their record of origin. All political rights, including voting, held by Africans were restricted to the designated homeland. This essentially disenfranchised them and removed their South African citizenship status, stripping them of any right of involvement with the South African Parliament. From 1976 to 1981, four of these homelands were created, denationalizing nine million South Africans.

In addition to the extreme poverty and brutality Africans faced, a Bantu educational system was established with the specific objective of creating an inferior group of people who could meet the labor demands of a developing country. Teachers were overworked and underpaid, the schools were overcrowded, had inadequate resources, and the curriculum was grounded in white supremacist ideologies. The system worked to secure a constant flow of unskilled laborers.

Battles against apartheid were waged on many fronts. Thousands of adults and children encountered relentless physical abuse, jail, and even death in their struggle for justice and equality. As the violence continued, international communities began to scrutinize the South African government. In the article "The Politics of Anti-Apartheid Movement in the United States" Donald Culverson notes, "In October 1984 the United States abstained from voting on a UN Security Council resolution condemning South Africa 's apartheid policies. Later that month, Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale charged the Reagan administration with disregarding human rights and allying itself to reactionary rather than reformist forces. Less than two years later the anti-apartheid movement emerged as a leading force for mobilizing domestic opposition to U.S. policy toward South Africa." Growing grassroots activism convinced state and local governments, colleges and universities, and corporations to reassess their ties to the government, especially with regard to economic support. After many years of suffering, unyielding brutality, and revolt from various entities, the system of state supported apartheid ended in 1991.

Culverson, Donald R. "The politics of the anti-apartheid movement in the United States, 1969-1986." Science Quarterly, Vol. 111, 1996.

Related Production Materials held at MSU Libraries, Special Collections:
Box 8, File 33, South Africa – April 20, 1994 – Show # 2528