Monday, November 15, 2010

No Future Without Forgiveness

Desmond Tutu was the first black Anglican Archbishop of South Africa and was an outspoken critic of apartheid—the government-sanctioned segregation of whites and blacks in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. In 1995, Nelson Mandela appointed Tutu as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was a court-like body that allowed the victims of human rights violations to confront their perpetrators. During these sessions, both sides would share their experiences of apartheid, and the perpetrators could request amnesty. Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace prize in 1984.

Don’t Deny The Past

Desmond Tutu argued that true reconciliation between blacks and whites could not be achieved by denying the past; that the nation must bring to light the atrocities perpetrated against the blacks. In this regard, Tutu demonstrates a key characteristic of great leaders—he moves forward by first understanding the past (DePree 1992). According to DePee, “Leaders move constantly back and forth between the present and the future. Our perception of each becomes clear and valid if we understand the past […] the past gives us the opportunity to build on the work of elders” (1992). Tutu says that in forgiving, people are not asked to forget. On the contrary, it is important to remember, so that we should not let such atrocities happen again.

Empathy For Your Oppressors

Tutu says that forgiveness involves trying to understand the perpetrators and to have empathy; to try to stand in their shoes and appreciate the sort of pressures and influences that might have conditioned them. Choi says, “Empathy indicates the ability to understand another person’s motives, values, and emotions, and it involves entering the other person’s perspectives” (Choi 2006). Tutu believes that the victims of apartheid must find a way to understand the motives of the white government in order to forgive. While he admits that standing before individuals who have openly confessed to beating, raping and murdering members of one’s family would be difficult, it would be the only way to move forward.

Take A Stand For The Good

Desmond Tutu spoke out against apartheid and encouraged his followers to take non-violent action against the government. As Burns says, “Leadership is the reciprocal process of mobilizing, by persons with certain motives and values, […] in order to realize goals independently or mutually held by both leaders and followers” (1978). Tutu believed that the people of South Africa must take a stand on the side of good and oppose the social system of apartheid. According to Heifitz, “We have to take sides. When we teach, write about, and model the exercise of leadership, we inevitably support or challenge people’s conceptions of themselves, their roles, and most importantly their ideas about how social systems make progress on problems” (1998). In this regard, Tutu viewed his opposition as a moral stand and, ultimately, his values were guiding his decision.

Become A Servant

Tutu essentially became a servant of his followers—he gave voice to the people in South Africa who opposed apartheid in a manner that was completely selfless. Servant leaders “are challenging the pervasive injustice with greater force and they are taking sharper issue with the wide disparity between the quality of society they know is reasonable and possible with available resources” (Greenleaf 1977). Tutu acted as a servant of the black South Africans by putting himself in potentially dangerous situations in order to advance a cause for the good of his followers.

The Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership:

Desmond Tutu on Leadership:

Works Cited
Burns, James MacGregor. "Toward a General Theory." In Leadership. NY, 1978.

Choi, Jaepil. "A Motivational Theory of Charismatic Leadership." Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 2006.

DePree, Max. "The Attributes of Leadership: A Checklist." In Leadership Jazz. NY, 1992.

Greenleaf, Robert. "Servant Leadership." In Servant Leadership. Paulist Press, 1977.

Heifitz, R. "Values in Leadership." In Leadership Without Easy Answers. Boston: Harvard University Press, 1998.


  1. Very good blog. I love the way you broke down each section in relation to Tutu. He is such a great example of leadership.

  2. Thanks Melanie. As I was thinking about Tutu, I couldn't decide what to focus on because he has so many characteristics of a leader--visionary, servant, etc. So, I decided to briefly discuss several aspects.
    Tutu is an inspiring figure who is sometimes overshadowed by Nelson Mandela. And since apartheid is not often discussed in school, most people have never heard of him.


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