Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu has celebrated 20 years of freedom in South Africa as a “heck of an achievement”, while confirming that he would not vote for the ruling party in upcoming elections.
Anglican archbishop emeritus Tutu, 82, is still regarded as a moral beacon for South Africa in the mould of the first post-apartheid president Nelson Mandela, who led the country from 1994 to 1999.
But he has been openly critical of current President Jacob Zuma’s graft-tainted administration and said last year he would no longer vote for Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC).
At a news conference in Cape Town’s St George’s cathedral on Wednesday, however, he chose to highlight the positives in a country once ruled by the racist apartheid ideology which earned it the sobriquet “polecat of the world”.
“We should pat ourselves on our backs when you think where we have come from,” he said, breaking into his characteristic cackle.
But, while he avoided direct criticism of Zuma and the current ANC government, he said they did not match up to Mandela, who died in December, and the other liberation leaders around him.
“We have to admit that not too many of the successors of those leaders have been able to fill their shoes. But the shoes were enormous.”
Tutu, whose speeches and interviews are often filled with wisecracking humour, was hesitant in answering many questions after saying he did not want to be accused of trying to influence the May 7 vote so close to the elections.
But when pressed, he did indicate, if indirectly, his discontent with the corruption in government and the lingering poverty in the country, saying it was a “disgrace” that people went to bed hungry.
Next month’s national elections are seen as a test of whether corruption, arrogance and enduring poverty after 20 years of ANC rule will hurt the party credited with ending apartheid.