South Africa: Truth and Reconciliation – Reflections On the Unfailing Moral Compass of ‘The Arch’ Desmond Tutu

Paul van Zyl is Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at The Conduit. He served as the Executive Secretary of South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 1995 to 1998.

A world short of decent leadership needs Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s unfailing moral compass more than ever. One of the many remarkable things about ‘The Arch’ (as he was affectionately known) was his unfailing ability to provide ethical clarity when the right answer wasn’t always obvious.

I served as the Executive Secretary of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and observed first-hand how The Arch made difficult decisions that were not always easy, but almost always right.

When PW Botha, South Africa’s notoriously unrepentant apartheid president, was due to appear before the TRC to answer questions I was preparing, The Arch called me the night before to privately warn me “not to humiliate the old man”. When I gently reminded him that we had evidence implicating Botha in the authorisation and condonation of torture and assassination, and that this warranted a robust pursuit of the truth, The Arch agreed, but insisted that we conduct the questioning in a manner that upheld his dignity.

At the time, this seemed like an…

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