In the Spirit of Democracy: The Life of Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu
Robert H. Kelley III
December 26, 2021
Living on the continent of Africa for over 26 years has been the center of my pastoral education and maturity. As a pastor for the last twenty years in South Africa, it is easy to profess that the work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu had a profound impact on my development and perceptions of the role of a pastor and their challenges after the Sunday Services. The life of Archbishop Tutu addressed the universal question of how does a pastor journey with his congregation and meet people at their place of need? Archbishop Desmond Tutu found the answer that resonated with many bishops, pastors, professors and authors. He seemed to espouse the idea that spiritual leadership required one simply to use the Bible as a guide to create change and inspire reconciliation in one’s community.
The celebrated and globally recognized leadership of Archbishop Desmond Tutu exemplified a life determined to improve the lives and conditions of all people. Equally significant, his undeniable quest to see that South Africa, as a nation, achieved the highest principles of freedom, governance, and democracy was a clear calling from which he never retreated. The archbishop served as a clarion voice, outlining the call for a balanced society, rift with the injustices of the Apartheid era.
The passing of South Africa’s renowned spiritual leader has led to deep reflection for nations around the world. Not only did Archbishop Tutu serve as a spiritually led conscientious objector for a government that held its majority population in economic, social and political chains, but his voice became a moral compass, globally, during the turbulent times in South Africa’s governance. Other nations also found relevance in his principles of political theology.
It cannot be overlooked that his inspiration also changed the concept of societal justice. He will be equally remembered for his fellowship with the country’s first democratic president, Nelson Mandela, in the cause for a better and just nation for the people of South Africa. This commitment to fighting for justice and love for everyone, irrespective of race, gender, class, or religion was a true hallmark of Archbishop Tutu’s legacy.
The spirit of this great leader is a bell that tolls for those who seek to strive continuously to achieve the highest form of democracy. His life was a symbol of truth, forgiveness, and reconcilement. His legacy firmly paves the way for all societies looking to achieve true and just democratic rule.
What might be equally important, is that Archbishop Desmond Tutu not only spoke for a newly-democratized South Africa, but also gave people a sense that democracy has divine roots. The notion that somehow democracy sits under the office of not simply a people, a vote and their rule, but rather under the office a higher authority. Through his foresight, nations have come to understand that democratic rule can assume a corrupt nature and masquerade under the idea that the government knows best. Archbishop Tutu had a way of helping all of humanity understand that a government is not a pure democracy based on what it does but rather what motivates a government to govern in the way they do. Through his vison we have learned to understand the value proposition of fair governing and the accompanying spirit of rule.
Finally, one cannot ignore the impact that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has had on hundreds of thousands of spiritual leaders across the globe in becoming outspoken activists of political theology in their own political jurisdictions. The archbishop’s life and principles have influenced my own life in many ways and I too strive to contribute toward democracy. I became a founder of Democrats Abroad South Africa (DASA) several years ago and am currently involved with the establishment of the Democrats Abroad Africa Committee, expanding our involvement across the continent. The idea remains that if a pastor from a small village in South Africa can change the policies of nations in a manner that improves the lives of people, why can’t Americans residing in South Africa and across the entire region do the same.
While Archbishop Tutu will be laid to rest and Africans, Americans and people from across the globe will mourn with his family and the nation of South Africa, his work will continue. It will continue in people that have been touched by his calling and passion for justice. Although the work is truly plentiful, the laborers are few. Yet, it only takes a few to make a difference; or even just one like Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Robert H. Kelley III is the co-founder of Democrats Abroad South Africa (DASA) and Director of Staffing for the Democrats Abroad Africa Committee, which supports the voting needs of Americans residing abroad in Africa. Robert Kelley also serves as Chairman and CEO of Crestmount International as an Africa-wide para-theological organization headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.
Member At-Large, DA South Africa
I’m originally from Goshen, CT and have lived in Johannesburg, South Africa since 1995.
I love bringing people together to collaborate and build momentum toward positive social change. I see the potential and need for collective commitment and action, and work to bring the opportunities, stakeholders, and resources together. My current focus is to support social change in South African schools through Antiracism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. For many years I led a Non Profit that advocated for and supported socio-economic transformation, particularly in regard to race and gender, in housing and construction. I stepped in to informally lead DASA in 2020 as we rallied together around the world to mobilise voters and protect our democracy. My commitment to DASA is driven particularly by the ongoing fight for social justice, racial justice in particular. Until 2020 I knew very few Americans in South Africa but have really enjoyed getting to know more Americans as we develop DASA and fight for our democracy. I appreciate the camaraderie but its also helped me navigate these trying times!