Your Royal Highness and Chancellor, by the authority of the Council, I present to you this person on whom the Council desires you to confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity: The Most Reverend Desmond Mpilo Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
As Principal of King’s College London, it is my great pleasure to be here today not only to give the citation for Archbishop Tutu, but also to see the University honour two other people who have very close connections with my College: Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Professor Sir Michael Rutter.
I am delighted to say that the conferment of this degree upon Archbishop Tutu is an historic occasion, while also noting with regret that it is one that is being enacted some 26 years later than intended.
The University in fact wished to honour Desmond Tutu in 1982. At that time, however, his passport had been confiscated by the South African authorities and he was unable to leave the country.
This was a period when the struggle against apartheid was reaching its apogee, and when the South African Council of Churches, of which Desmond Tutu was General Secretary, was facing what turned out to be a four-year-long, harassment campaign from the Government of PW Botha – something which was discredited in his masterful, and highly theological, defence before the Eloff Commission.
Desmond Tutu himself was in very real, physical, danger. There is a chilling account in his biography of how, when he returned to South Africa in 1981, the security police discussed the possibility of stabbing him at the airport with a sharpened bicycle spoke.
In these circumstances the decision of this University, to confer an honorary doctorate on him was not only a recognition of his scholarship, integrity and courage, but also a means of warning the South African Government that its actions were being observed, and that any attempt to ‘disappear’ this turbulent priest would cause an international uproar.
It is difficult to know whether the University’s action did provide any protection, but thankfully Desmond Tutu was preserved to be raised to the Bishopric of Johannesburg in 1985, and to become the first black person to lead the Church of South Africa as Archbishop of Cape Town for 10 years from 1986. He was preserved to play a major part in bringing about – and naming – the Rainbow Nation of South Africa; to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 1995 to 1999, and to work as a global activist on issues connected with democracy, freedom and human rights. Last year he became Chairman of the Elders, a group of world leaders who contribute their wisdom, leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems.
Although he was unable to take up the University’s invitation in 1982, I know that it is one that has been particularly cherished by the Archbishop all this time, even though he has received so many other degrees and distinctions at the highest level, including, of course, the Nobel Prize for Peace, in 1984, for his role in the campaign against apartheid.
This much-belated award today therefore honours someone who is very close to our hearts in the University and particularly at King’s. When he comes to visit us we always have to factor in extra time to enable him to get from place to place, because there are so many people who want to greet him, and with whom he wants to share greetings and often long and enthusiastic hugs as well.
In 1961, the Community of the Resurrection, Anglican monks working in South Africa churches and schools, selected Desmond Tutu as one of their very best students to send to King’s for further training. Even then the South African Government tried to stop him travelling and developing his great gifts, while King’s purpose was to help him to do just this. It was at King’s, as an outstanding and memorable undergraduate and master’s student, that he seized the opportunity to study more deeply and to think more intellectually. He acquired the ancient biblical languages, and also – with great foresight – used his master’s dissertation as an opportunity to develop his understanding of Islam.
He forged strong links with his teachers and with the College and the University, and, as ‘The Arch’ (as we’ve learned to call him) he has continued to be close to us. We, therefore, honour him as a Fellow of King’s, as a brilliant Visiting Professor in Post-Conflict Societies and as an inspiring Commemoration Orator in 2004. We relish him as a teller of wonderful, surprising, and sometimes outrageous jokes, and we thank him sincerely for being the patron of our student nightclub, Tutu’s.
We honour Archbishop Tutu as a priest who has given us his formidably intelligent guidance on moral issues and for his example of a life of profound Christian spirituality. Above all, we revere him as someone whose faith in God enables him to love all human beings as the children of God, and to respect them without reference to race or colour, and (as I think he might put it) regardless of the length of their nose*: and, indeed, even if they are the perpetrators of deeply inhuman systems such as apartheid.
If I may borrow another of his sayings (one learnt, I believe, at King’s), ‘it is not unreasonable to suppose’ that Archbishop Tutu is one of the most famous and distinguished graduates who will ever be produced by this University. It is, therefore,
Chancellor, for all these reasons and with great pleasure that I ask you to confer on Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu the Degree of Doctor of Divinity honoris causa.
Delivered by Professor Rick Trainor, Principal, King’s College London