Singer and activist Bono praises the man who ‘dared speak truth to power, truth to evil'

The cathedral echoed with laughter, music, dance — and some sharp rebukes to overweening power: a fitting way to celebrate the 80th birthday of South Africa's spiritual conscience, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

With Nelson Mandela now 93 and virtually out of public life, Archbishop Tutu is seen as one of the last moral anchors for South Africans facing persistent strife in what he dubbed the “rainbow nation.” The warmth of public affection for “the arch” was evident on Thursday in the 19th-century St George's Cathedral, once a bastion of resistance to apartheid where the puckish Archbishop Tutu rallied hearts and minds.

His birthday has been overshadowed by a feud with the government over its failure to grant an entry visa to fellow Nobel peace laureate the Dalai Lama, allegedly under pressure from China. Archbishop Tutu claimed the ruling African National Congress was worse than the white minority regime and said he would one day pray for its downfall too.

There was no tiptoeing around the controversy; it was embraced with characteristic relish at the launch of a biography of Archbishop Tutu.

The guest speaker, Irish singer and activist Bono, recalled the apartheid years when the cathedral was once stormed by police. “Back then, at a time when there was barbed wire outside and police were not at his side, [Archbishop Tutu] stood at this pulpit and dared speak truth to power, truth to evil. He spoke of apartheid, the sins of a racist regime, until the world could avert its eyes no more.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

Keywords: Desmond Tutu

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