Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech by Egil Aarvik, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes, through the presentation of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, to direct attention to a unifying leader figure in the campaign to solve South Africa’s apartheid problem by peaceful means. The situation as it is today is such that a peaceful solution is by no means inevitable – the repression is so brutal that a violent rebellion would be an understandable reaction. The South African has more reason now than ever before to exclaim “Cry the beloved country”.

Given this situation it is all the more remarkable that human beings are able to choose a peaceful way to freedom.

It is the Nobel Committee’s opinion that the means by which the South African liberation process is conducted will have wide-ranging consequences for the whole of the African continent, and therefore also for the cause of peace in the world. This is an opinion which is also expressed in a number of United Nations resolutions – most recently that passed by the Security Council in October this year. Racial discrimination in South Africa is rightly regarded as a threat to peace and as an outrageous violation of basic human rights.

Fortunately, a peaceful alternative exists. On a broad front a campaign is being fought with the weapons of the spirit and reason – a campaign for truth, freedom and justice. In recognition of the fact that it is this alternative which must succeed, the South African bishop, Desmond Tutu, has been selected as this year’s Peace Prize laureate.

The contribution he has made, and is still making, represents a hope for the future, for the country’s white minority as well as the black majority. Desmond Tutu is an exponent of the only form for conflict solving which is worthy of civilised nations.

It is today 23 years since the Nobel Peace Prize was last awarded to a South African. On that occasion it was Albert Lutuli, then president of the African National Congress, who was presented with the prize. It is the Committee’s wish that this year’s award should be seen as a renewed recognition of the courage and heroic patience shown by black South Africans in their use of peaceful means to oppose the apartheid system. This recognition is also extended to all who, throughout the world, stand in the forefront of the campaign for racial equality as a human right.

It is unfortunately not only in South Africa that human rights are violated. Another former prizewinner, Amnesty International, informs us that it is known to occur in 117 countries, and that prisoners of conscience are tortured in 60 countries. Too frequently, the brutal features of power and violence mar the face of our times. But if we are willing to look for it, we can also see the face of peace – even if we have to peer through prison bars and barbed wire to find it. And, in spite of everything, new hope is raised, on each occasion we see how the spirit of man refuses to be conquered by the forces of hate.

Some time ago television enabled us to see this year’s laureate in a suburb of Johannesburg. A massacre of the black population had just taken place – the camera showed ruined houses, mutilated human beings and crushed children’s toys. Innocent people had been murdered. Women and children mortally wounded. But, after the police vehicles had driven away with their prisoners, Desmond Tutu stood and spoke to a frightened and bitter congregation: “Do not hate”, he said, “let us choose the peaceful way to freedom”.

It is with admiration and humility we today present the Nobel Peace Prize to this man.

Desmond Tutu’s contribution to the liberation struggle was given a special significance in 1978 when he became the first black secretary of the South African Council of Churches. This Council of Churches is both a joint forum for the churches of South Africa and the national representative for the World Council of Churches. It includes all the major churches in the country – with the exception of the Boer Church which withdrew as a result of disagreement with the Council over the question of apartheid. The Catholic Church is a so-called associate member, but is also one of the Council’s strongest supporters.

As around 75 percent of all citizens of South Africa are members of a church, the body is a very representative organisation. Few other organisations can make the same claim to speak for the black population.

As the dynamic leader of this Council, Desmond Tutu has formulated as his goal “a democratic and just society without racial segregation”. His minimum demands are: equal civil rights for all, the abolition of the Pass Laws, a common system of education and the cessation of the forced deportation of blacks from South Africa to the so-called “homelands”.

Both through these objectives and through its practical activities the South African Council of Churches has obviously exceeded the normal scope of such an organisation. The Council has become a trailblazer in the campaign for human rights, a central force in a liberation struggle and an increasingly wide-ranging support organisation for the many victims of the present system’s racial discrimination. Consider what happens when millions of human beings are deported. Their homes are razed to the ground. Their personal possessions are taken from them. They lose their jobs, and are physically transported and deposited in the empty veld with just a tent and a sack of maize as their only hopes of survival.

3 millions have been deported in this way, while new millions await their turn.

If we ignore for a moment the personal humiliation, the question remains – who is there to help these people to survive in their new existence? Who will help them house themselves, find water, tend to the sick or educate their children?

The system also has – obviously – its political prisoners. Their crime is the necessary one of wanting a society with freedom and respect for human rights! They are imprisoned – but who is there to help their families?

There is also the so-called “migration labour” system under which underpaid labourers are obliged to live away from their families. The Pass Laws are also notorious; they burden the black population with a collective captivity and make them foreigners in their own country. Anyone breaking these laws risks group arrest and indefinite imprisonment without legal help.

It is not difficult to imagine that, as a result of this system, there are considerable social, medical and legal problems which necessitate help from the South African Council of Churches. It is a pleasure to note that over 90 percent of the Council’s budget is covered by contributions from churches in the Western world, while it is with anxiety we note that new laws are being prepared which will deprive the Council of the right to administer its own funds.

As already mentioned, racial discrimination is by no means limited to South Africa. Before the Second World War such discrimination was relatively common, and world opinion was not particularly concerned with it. The situation changed, however, after 1945: new ideas were expressed in the Atlantic Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights.1

During the war it was possible to see signs of a more liberal policy evolving in South Africa. The ideas from the Atlantic Charter, however, had little effect there, and when the Nationalist Party won the election of 1948 the situation worsened. It was in this period that the apartheid laws were formulated and ratified, a move which has correctly been described as a counter-revolution against pre-1948 tendencies.

History is never without a certain sense for the ironic – the man who more than anyone else was responsible for the implementation of the apartheid system, the Nationalist Party’s first prime minister Dr. Daniel Malan, was a churchman, an ordained priest in the Dutch Reformed Church. And now we see that the most dynamic opponent of the apartheid system is also a churchman – in fact a bishop! In this way history corrects its own mistakes.

The irony of history is even more wide-ranging. The apartheid system is the indirect reason for the fact that Desmond Tutu became a churchman with the position he has today. His first wish was to become a doctor, but this was impossible with his parents’ financial situation. He became, therefore, a teacher – as his father had been. In 1957 when the government introduced the state “Bantu education” – in many ways an abolition of education for the black population – Tutu felt himself driven from the teaching profession and began to study to be a priest. He has himself said that he did not feel himself called to take this step by high ideals, “it just occurred to me that, if the Church would have me, the profession of priest could be a good way of serving my people”.

Yes – it seems that the Church was willing to take him!

Obviously, Desmond Tutu was not without high ideals. And, like so many others, he had these ideals from the family home. In his childhood in Klerksdorp in the West Rand district he was taught tolerance and sympathy. He has himself said that “I never learnt to hate”. The idealism of his parents was thus reflected in Tutu’s upbringing.

When Tutu was twelve years old his family moved to Johannesburg, where his father was a teacher and his mother a cleaner and cook at a school for the blind. Here he learned sympathy for the weakest and most underprivileged. It was also here that he met the man who probably exercised the strongest influence over his formative years, the white priest Trevor Huddleston, who was parish priest in the black slum of Sophiatown. “One day”, says Tutu, “I was standing in the street with my mother when a white man in a priest’s clothing walked past. As he passed us he took off his hat to my mother. I couldn’t believe my eyes – a white man who greeted a black working class woman!” When Tutu has in later years been asked why he doesn’t hate whites, he usually replies that it is because he was fortunate in the whites he met when young.

But, although he has never learnt to hate, none has opposed injustice with a more burning anger. Courageous and fearless he opposes his country’s authorities. He is to be found at the front of the demonstration processions, regardless of the danger to his own life. His clear standpoints and his fearless attitude have made his name a unifying symbol for all groups of freedom campaigners in Africa.

Desmond Tutu has shown that to campaign for the cause of peace is not a question of silent acceptance, but rather of arousing consciences and a sense of indignation, strengthening the will and inspiring the human spirit so that it recognises both its own value and its power of victory. To this fight for peace we give our affirmative “yes” today.

The actress Liv Ullmann has told of a Lebanese boy who was asked if he believed in revenge. “Yes”, replied the boy, he believed in revenge. “And to revenge”, he was asked, “what is that?” “To revenge”, replied the boy, “is to make a bad person a good person.”

Thoughts of this nature are the human spirit’s bulwark against barbarism. It is those who have such thoughts who are the real peacemakers and the meek, who are not only blessed, but who shall also inherit the earth – also the earth of South Africa. The 23 million coloured people shall at least have the same right of inheritance of this earth as the 4.5 million whites.

The question has been raised whether the award of the Peace Prize to Desmond Tutu is to be seen as a judgement on the South African apartheid system. The answer is that the system has judged itself. Racial discrimination can never be anything but an expression of shameful contempt for humankind. Racial discrimination used and defended as a political system is totally incompatible with human civilisation. This year’s Peace Prize is therefore an attempt to awaken consciences. It is, and has to be, an illusion that privileged groups can maintain their position through repression. That such things can have a place in our future is a lie which nobody should allow themselves to believe.

In his famous book Roots, the black author Alex Hailey tells of his African ancestor, the negro slave Kunta Kinte, who attained the position of coachman with his white master. One of his duties was to drive his white masters to luxurious parties held at neighbouring farms. One evening, as he sat outside and waited, he began to philosophise over his experiences. According to the author, he couldn’t understand that such an unbelievable luxury really existed and that the whites really lived the way they did. After a long time and many such parties, he began to realise that the whites’ existence was, in a remarkable way, unreal – a sort of beautiful dream built on a lie which the whites told themselves: that good can come of evil, and that it is possible to lead a civilised existence while not acknowledging as human beings those whose sweat and blood made their privileges possible.

Kunta Kinte was right. Negro slavery was incompatible with American civilisation – in the same way as the apartheid system is in reality incompatible with South African.

There are few if any recorded examples in history of privileged groups who voluntarily relinquish privileges to the advantage of the repressed. In all probability it won’t happen in South Africa either. The possibility of an unbloody resolution of the conflict is nevertheless still there. It is such a solution that Desmond Tutu fights for. The presentation of the Peace Prize to him is, therefore, not a judgement, rather it is a challenge, a hand stretched out – in the same way as Desmond Tutu’s hand is stretched out to conciliation and atonement. If only the dominant minority would recognise this opportunity and take the chance before history’s amnesty runs out.

It will be understood that to present Desmond Tutu’s Nobel Peace Prize with a white man’s hands is in some ways an oppressive experience. On such an occasion it is impossible not to allow one’s thoughts to consider what the white man has prepetrated against his coloured cousins. It is depressing to think of the list of debts which is written with the African’s suffering, tears and blood. Think of the humiliation and exploitation which human beings from this continent have had to endure – from the first slave traffic, through centuries of colonialism to today’s discrimination. On a day like this our memories are indeed painful – not only on account of what the white man has done and still does, but also on account of what he, to this day, has neglected to do.

Thus, as we now present the Nobel Peace Prize to the African Desmond Tutu, our immediate feeling is that our first word to the Prize Laureate ought to be a word describing our sorrow over the wounds which injustice and racial hatred has inflicted on his people.

The dominating feeling is, however, one of thankfulness and respectful joy, and this is because we feel ourselves united with him in the belief in the creative power of love. With his warmhearted Christian faith he is a representative of the best in us all.

Additionally, there is a factor which the Nobel Committee has placed great emphasis on – that in the liberation process which Desmond Tutu leads black and white stand shoulder to shoulder in the common cause against injustice. In this we see a moving confirmation of the words in Alfred Nobel’s testament on the brotherhood of mankind.

In the light of this we bring our homage to Desmond Tutu. Because his struggle is – and has to be – our struggle, we recognise him as a brother. He receives today the Peace Prize as a sign of the thankfulness of millions – perhaps also as an omen of black and white Africans’ final victory over the last remnants of opposition in the campaign for freedom and peace. It is appropriate to remember the words of Martin Luther King just before his martyrdom: “I have seen the Promised Land!”

Even though the black South African’s way forward to freedom’s promised land can still be long and difficult, it is a way of humanity which we shall traverse together in the sound knowledge that “we shall overcome”. Therefore our first word to the Peace Prize laureate will be a word of hope and victory: “oh yes, deep in my heart I do believe that we shall overcome – some day!”

1. The Atlantic Charter was a program of peace aims jointly signed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain and President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States on August 14, 1941. It was drawn up at sea, off the coast of Newfoundland, and included principles of economic and social betterment and individual freedom. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1981-1990, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1984

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