Shortly after the passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Dr Mpho Phalatse spoke at St Mary’s Cathedral in the Johannesburg CBD, paying tribute to the late icon and calling on all of us to do our part to keep his legacy alive.

A humble man, a simple man that he was. He says when he related to me, he related to me like my grandfather, and it is only now that I realise who he was. Yesterday, we were in Soweto for a prayer vigil, and I must say that I left there comforted that the legacy of our dearly departed Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will live on in this church. He was an activist for human rights who preaches truth without compromise. Yesterday, when I heard Bishop Moreo preaching in Soweto and saying to the residents of Soweto, let us hold government to account in delivering what they were meant to be delivering for us. He also went on to say, let us take responsibility and pay for the services that we receive. I understood that he himself has received the baton, understanding that the church and its function does not end within these four walls but that the church remains a voice, a voice when politicians cannot reach society. It remains a haven where politicians can rally and ask for mediation, for prayers. A few weeks ago, we had local government elections and one day I wrote to Father Xolani, who has always been a friend of the city, and I said I would love to come to church for prayers as I’m campaigning to be the next mayor of Johannesburg.

He graciously said to me that he would be delighted to have me, but may I suggest you don’t come this weekend as you propose but that you come the weekend after. I then realised that the weekend I had requested to come, the then incumbent mayor, Mayor Moerane, had also requested to come and that he too wanted to be prayed for as he was contending to be the next mayor of Johannesburg. And so he came, and the following week I came and I too was prayed for. After I came, I saw in the media that another front runner, the former mayor of Johannesburg, councillor Herman Mashaba, also came. He also came to the same church to be prayed for because he too had aspirations to be the next mayor of the city of Johannesburg. Two days ago, I said to Father Xolani, if there is one man of God who can confuse God, it’s you.

It is no wonder that not one single one of us got an outright majority, because God in his infinite wisdom and in his line on the value of fairness decided to split the votes between the three of us and many other parties. It was in that wisdom that it also forced us to embrace what this cathedral stands for, which is the value of diversity. Through this election outcome we have been forced to work with other political parties to attain the 50% + 1 majority that we need to be able to govern. This would have not happened if either one of us had an absolute majority. We have been forced to reach beyond ourselves, beyond people who look like us, live like us, who think like us. I was listening to one of the speeches by our dearly departed, and one of the things I realised was that even though he believed in proportional representation, he also realised that it had inherent limitations and he believed rather in constituent representation. Through this outcome, that is exactly what we ended up with, for all the many constituencies in Johannesburg are represented around decision making tables.

But for me the fact that three front runners in the economic hub of South Africa, that all three of them chose to come to this cathedral, for me it says that there’s something special about this place. It says that there is a magnetic pool into this place that aspiring leaders feel they need to encounter this thing in this place before they go into their position of leadership, and I believe it is the spirit of this place and what it stands for. This place has been associated with many names that are added to the history of this country, the likes of Helen Joseph, an English anti-apartheid activist who called upon this place, her place of worship. The likes of Beyers Naude, a theologian, and himself an anti-apartheid activist who served in this very cathedral. In 1975, history was made right here in this cathedral when its first ever dean was installed and that was our dearly departed Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. In 1985, history was again made when he became the first black Bishop of Johannesburg. It is clear that this cathedral is synonymous with challenged systems. Systems of oppression, of inequality, of injustice toward humanity. While he was dean he stood right here by this pulpit challenging the apartheid regime of the time, and without fear or favour he continued to speak against the injustices.

He prophesied and spoke life into this nation, bringing correction where it was needed, bringing rebuke where it was needed, teaching where it was needed, and, of course, he did all of this with the humour that he was known for. He was a father and a father loves unconditionally. A father never gives up on his children. He never gave up on his dream for our beloved country. He was a role model and, yes, he was a role model for those who served in the church, of a life of solitude, a life of servitude, a life of selfless love and sacrifice, but he was also a role model to political leaders such as myself of what it means to truly be about the people. He was an icon, not only locally but globally as well. A man of peace, he chose forgiveness instead of bloodshed, facilitating this country’s peaceful transition into the democratic dispensation. An achievement that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and as the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he urged those who were to be found guilty of wrongdoing to accept their wrongs, acknowledge their wrongs, ask for forgiveness so that there could be healing, peace, and reconciliation. He was a nation builder, one to the reconstruction of the nation to never be forgotten.

He was a patriot, compassionate until the end about the well-being of South Africa and the continent. We have cried, we have mourned, and as we gather to celebrate this gift, this life that we were blessed with, we ought to pause and reflect on the role that he has played and the lessons that he has taught us over the years, that he served us both in good and in deed. We also ought to reflect on the role that we each have to play in preserving and continuing his legacy for indeed one plants, another waters, and God gives the increase. Archbishop Tutu has started and we need to water the seeds that he has planted and God will surely increase. I too have asked myself, how do I keep his legacy alive, what will my role be as Mpho Phalatse in keeping this legacy alive, and I have a role to love this nation of South Africa and pray for her daily as if her well-being depends on my prayers and God. When I pray I also have to go out and work hard for the restoration of this nation as if that depends on me. I have a role to walk in the posture of servitude and I serve those that I have been ought to serve. I have a role to be faithful with that role that I have been given and I have a role to speak truth even when I’m not popular to do so. I have a role to never eat the bread of those I’m meant to be feeding. I have a role to protect the vulnerable, the marginalised. I have a role to love the people unconditionally. I have the role to love, love, and love some more.

These are some of the lessons amongst many that I myself have drawn from this great life and I believe that each and every one of us today has their own lessons through our own intersections with this great man of God. I received this past week as we learnt about the passing, a proposal from the dean, Father Xolani, and this was a proposal that was given to the city for this church to be declared a national heritage site. A proposal for this precinct to be reclaimed and to be renamed the Desmond Tutu precinct and a proposal for the streets in this precinct to be renamed. I looked at all the different facets of this proposal, very well written I must say, and I understood how the many parts—the renaming of the streets, the naming of the precinct, the declaration of this site as a heritage site, required that proposal, but I must say that I was embarrassed to find the things that I did not expect to find. I found a reminder to government on what it ought to be doing to service people. I found there a diagnosis of what has gone wrong in this precinct, and I found there solutions on what needs to be done to get this precinct right. All the things that were mentioned are described in the Constitution and in the laws that govern how we serve.

All of them are things that we should be doing without being asked, they did not require a proposal from the church. It proposes that we clean the streets, it proposes that we unblock, repair, and maintain storm water drains, it proposes that we keep people safe. It proposes that we restore law and order, that we regularise informal trade. It proposes that we regulate how taxis are operating. These are some of the examples and, I must say, I was embarrassed on behalf of the city that this had to come contained in a proposal from the church for us to do what we are getting paid to do. But as embarrassed as I was, I was equally grateful that we still have a church in our midst that cares enough to put together such a proposal. I’d really like to commend the leadership of the church, the business people in this place, the inner city partnership forum and everybody else that has made an effort to put that together, and as I had said, there are processes that we internally have to follow to fulfil all the requests contained in that proposal. But what we get paid for, we must do, and myself and the team of MMCs who have just been appointed have made a commitment that everything that we have been reported to this job to do, we will do including restoring this precinct so that the legacy of our dearly departed can be contained in a place that is worthy of his name.

In closing, I would just like to remind us we have been blessed with greatness. Greatness that has stood here, greatness that has spoken into our lives, into our nation, into our continent. Greatness that has prayed daily for us. We have a choice today of what it is that we are going to do with the many lessons that we have learnt. We have a choice today to pick up the baton and continue the good work. We have a nation to build and in building this nation, we ought to start by preserving the work that has already started. We need to recognise that South Africa is the economic hub of this continent and is the gateway to the economic liberation of this continent. We need to recognise that our mineral wealth and our land and all its produce can work for us. We also need to understand that it will not come through divisions, but it will be coming through understanding our diversity, embracing it, and like Archbishop Tutu, seeing it as a strength and not as a weakness. It will come back as committing that we will shun all who cornered us to try and destroy the hard work for those who did it for us, that we will shun all who colonised to destroy our hard-earned infrastructure because there’s something that they want. That we will shun all who colonised to break the law because we feel entitled. With that from this day forward, we make a conscious decision to be part of the solution and part of the team that is going to lead this nation for the sake of our children, for the sake of generations to come, and for the sake of the continent of Africa. I thank you.

Dr Mpho Phalatse is a medical doctor and politician serving as the executive mayor of the City of Johannesburg.

By admin