, (Reuters) – My earliest memories of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu come from newspaper clippings and video recordings of foreign news bulletins smuggled into South Africa by dissidents to escape censorship.

As an activist allied with the African National Congress, the Archbishop has been banned from the heavily watched media of the white minority government.

In contraband tapes, I saw the Archbishop looking majestic in his purple robes praying at the funerals of activists and protesters killed by apartheid police, or begging people to end the violence.

As a young woman during this tumultuous time in my country, I saw her as a man of God fighting for our freedom, a man pleading with the world to end apartheid, an elder whom we hoped to one day help to restore peace – although we weren’t always so confident that it would someday happen.

Political cartoons about world leaders

Of course, I had no idea then that I would one day do newspaper clippings on “The Ark” as it is affectionately called here. As a photojournalist, I had the opportunity to meet him regularly in the democracy he helped to establish.

Before all of this, one memory stands out from 1985. I was nine years old, participating in an anti-apartheid protest in our neighborhood of Cape Flats, an area designated as “non-white” by the segregationist Group Areas Act.

As a family of mostly Indian descent, our movement was restricted by law and our schools were closed by the government under a state of emergency. The police fired tear gas at us – yes, at a group of elementary school children and their teachers! – and my eyes stung with pain.

But the main protest was on the road at Alexander Sinton High School. My father was a teacher there; my sister a student. They staged a sit-in protest demanding the opening of schools, and police fired tear gas and dragged students out of their classrooms. My father and sister were arrested and released a few hours later.

The next day, Tutu visited the school to comfort the students. A black-and-white photo shows him in his tunic and glasses, a halo of white hair encircling his forehead and both hands affectionately holding a student’s cheeks.

On February 11, 1990, I sat in the Grand Parade in front of Cape Town City Hall with my family while awaiting the arrival of Nelson Mandela, who was due to be released from prison after 27 years. The sun had already started to set when Mandela emerged onto the balcony with Archbishop Tutu by his side.

We were thrilled. We knew the democracy my family had fought for was coming, but the joy was marred by a sense of loss, the sacrifices we had made and the abuse we had suffered.

Almost 20 years later, I had my first opportunity to photograph the Archbishop in this house. At the time, I was too shy to interact with him much, but over the next decade I had the privilege of photographing him several times for Reuters and for his foundation, so I learned to better photograph him. to know.

His courage in the defense of social justice, even at great cost, has always shone – and not only during apartheid. He often fell out with his former ruling ANC allies over their failure to tackle the poverty and inequalities they had promised to eradicate.

At St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town on April 23, 2014, I photographed Tutu who was still angry and injured four months after the ANC tried to ban him at Mandela’s funeral. The party only gave in after a general outcry.

“I will not vote for them,” he said of the ANC.

“I say this with a very sore heart. We dreamed of a society that would really make people feel like they were important. You can’t do that in a society where you have people who go to bed hungry, where many of our children still attend classes under the trees. “

I have always been impressed with how the Tutu greeted people equally, whether they were heads of state or homeless in the streets. He regularly visited a home for the elderly, taking cakes and treats for the residents. I watched as he shook hands with about 40 of them.

When I had to cancel an appointment with him because my son had appendicitis in 2016, Tutu had a gift box sent to the hospital.

His wife Leah told me a tale over tea about how, when he was young, he gave up his swimsuit to another child accompanying a blind man, shivering with cold, knowing he risked a scolding himself. he was going home without him.

It was the Tutu we all knew and loved.

To me, all of these things show that l’Arche was sincere when he spoke of “Ubuntu”, a Zulu word representing a belief that all human beings are bound by a universal bond which requires sharing and compassion.

“We were meant to exist as members of one family, the human family,” he once said, adding that when we don’t act on it, “we do so at the risk of our own. life”.

Archbishop Tutu took many risks in his life, but this was not one of them.

(Reporting by Sumaya Hisham; Editing by Tim Cocks, Andrew Heavens and William Mallard)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.