Desmond Tutu’s message

Posted on by Nancy Slessenger This entry was posted in Grapevine, Leadership and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


It has been a very long time ambition of mine to hear Desmond Tutu speak.

Yesterday I was privileged enough to be able to attend the memorial service for Nelson

The Ceiling of Westminster Abbey

The Ceiling of Westminster Abbey

Mandela at Westminster Abbey. I could scarcely believe my luck when I discovered that Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu would be speaking.


His address was even better than I had expected. Of course, it was a perfect lesson in virtually every aspect of public speaking, so worth listening to just for that.  It’s also a great lesson in leadership. But there was a key message too.


I’m sharing it with you, because I think it is a valuable one. I hope you like it.


You may not think that it’s relevant to you. For me his message struck home and made me wonder if I always behave as well as I might towards my fellow human beings and, most importantly, made me want to do better.  


So, here is an overview of what he said, including his simple key message for us all at the end.


A Funny Story

After thanking everyone for organising the service, he started with a funny story. No one else who spoke did that. He described how 20 years ago, South Africa was a nation that sported signs reading:

Drive carefully natives cross here

And that, in his own words “rather hair-raisingly” (made more amusing by the face that he is bald) some people had changed them to:

Drive carefully natives very cross here


The serious side

He described how the apartheid system treated black people as if they were “scum” and gave a few examples.

He went on to explain how high-ranking persons in both the UK and the US regarded Mandela as a terrorist and wondered what would have happened if he had died in prison. He gave his impish laugh as he pointed out that this had not happened and said it was thanks very largely to the amazing international anti-apartheid movement led by the Englishman, Arch Bishop Trevor Huddleston.


Thanking everyone

He then when on to thank the people who had contributed, as he said “on behalf or our people. How I wish you could open our hearts and see the depth of our gratitude.”

He thanked those who regularly picketed SA house, the “elegant ladies” who boycotted produce and those who “followed a long-haired Peter Hain”. You could feel people beaming with pride as he thanked them.

He described visitng10 Downing Street and the Oval Office with pleas for sanctions that fell on deaf ears.

Then he mentioned that instead of retribution and revenge, black and white South Africans walked the path of reconciliation.



He then described how Nelson Mandela came out of prison transformed, from an angry militant young man to the magnanimous leader who believed that each person, every single one of us has the capacity to be great, magnanimous, forgiving and generous.



The message: What we are made for

Desmond Tutu believes we cannot give up on anyone. He admitted that Nelson Mandela may not have put this quite the same way, but he believes that “no one is a hopeless case with a first class ticket to hell”. We, all of us, have the capacity to be saints. He said that Mandela made us believe that all each one of us is made for goodness, for caring, for loving, for laughter and for peace.


If you believe that about people, it makes it so much easier for you to treat them well and to help them, and probably to feel good about yourself.


Try it out and see what you find.


13 Responses to “Desmond Tutu’s message”

  1. March 4, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing that, Nancy.

    It brought a little relieve and laughter to a busy and frustrating day,


    • Nancy Slessenger
      March 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      Hi Jim
      I’m so glad you liked it. I almost didn’t publish this, but very glad I did.
      Best wishes

    • March 11, 2014 at 7:18 pm

      Hi Nancy very pleased you did decide to post this!

      I met Desmond Tutu more than 30 years ago when I was a student at Hull University. I had never heard his name before. At that point he was introduced to me as ‘Bishop Tutu’ from South Africa.
      He came up the stairs into our hall of residence accompanied by the president of the student union. I remember a small man approaching us with a huge smile, big expressive eyes and wearing a black duffle coat. It was winter and he looked absolutely freezing!! We made him tea and he chatted to us on the landing and we sat around a small table with about 6 other students.
      He was visiting students across the UK to thank them for their efforts in opposing apartheid.
      (We were doing simple things like boycotting the large corporate banks that still had a presence in South Africa at that time). Many of us had opened our student accounts with the Co-operative bank instead of the usual big names on the high street! This was an easy thing for us to do of course with little effort on our part.
      He said it was small steps like this by everyone that would lead to big changes in South Africa. That we should continue to boycott international companies that had a presence in South Africa to keep up the pressure.
      He was very humble but powerful. I remember thinking that he had come all this way to tell us this simple message … I knew that as well as speaking he was going into each hall of residence and (there were many) giving the same message that night. Then he would be travelling across the UK to other universities and no doubt speaking across the UK to whoever would listen. But what really impressed me was that he didn’t just choose to speak at events but he chose to seek out people to make sure his message got through … and express his gratitude for their help. Very humbling.
      A year passed before I noticed that the man who came to visit us that night was in front of me on a television screen in my own home. It was a BBC report about a major rally he was speaking at in South Africa, most likely with serious risk to him and his followers … but he was smiling and making his points clear and emphatic and still using lots of humour.

      I am proud to have met him all those years ago and regret that I didn’t have longer to talk to him or appreciate the calibre of man in front of me. He probably got very little sleep during that trip to the UK … and he is still going strong 30 years later as a speaker and a leader !

      So I really appreciated you decided to share his speech and the message he gave at Mandela’s memorial service. Thank you.

      • Nancy Slessenger
        March 13, 2014 at 7:50 am

        Hi Carole
        What an amazing experience! And how interesting to learn of his approach. I was only talking about his address with a friend yesterday and how careful he was to thank everyone for what we had done. As you say, some things were easy to do, but the fact that he bothered to give thanks (when probably no one expected thanks) makes such a difference.

        I left inspired to do better and that feeling is still with me. I think I must add to my list; making sure I thank people properly.

        Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us all. I have no doubt you realise how lucky you are.

        All best wishes


  2. March 4, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    I believe in the descriptive Desmond uses to alliterate leading the life of a ‘saint’. However I believe one needs to experience, witness or have knowledge of what that feels like to give or receive those feelings first hand. And only then can we as individuals grow and help others grow in the same way.
    Great to hear he has a sense of humour too. Thanks for sharing Nancy. Really thoughtful of you.

    • Nancy Slessenger
      March 5, 2014 at 12:20 pm

      Thanks Deborah
      It’s great to get those feelings first hand, but even if you don’t I think we can all have a go. I’m certainly trying my best after hearing the address.
      Best wishes

  3. March 5, 2014 at 4:50 am

    Thank you for sharing your experience and recap of what you heard.
    I was also fortunate enough to meet Archbishop Desmund Tutu and his wife on a ship during my Semester at Sea program. He has inspired my life. My life was changed by meeting Desmund Tutu.
    Nelson Mandela was such an inspiration. If we treat everyone as equals and with peace, love, laughter and peace, the world will be a much better place.
    What an infectious love of life and laughter Desmond Tutu has.
    Thanks again for sharing.

    • Nancy Slessenger
      March 5, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      Hi Magen
      You are so fortunate to have met him. As I was watching him, just a few feet away, talking to another member of the clergy, I was astonished to see him give a little frog-like jump! The man he was talking to laughed and I wished I could have overheard what they were talking about. What a joy he is.
      All best wishes

  4. March 5, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Nancy thank you so much for sharing this experience and message. Lovely humour as well. I will pass them on.

    • Nancy Slessenger
      March 5, 2014 at 12:22 pm

      My great pleasure, I hope you are able to share it with others.
      All best wishes

  5. March 6, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Hi Nancy,
    The power of reconciliation lies in the basic fact that one person has to take the first step but most importantly that they want to and of their own free will. Mandeba had arrived at this point through his own experiences. Many high powered people in the 21stC are still to grasp this. Thanks for sharing.

  6. March 8, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Deborah Evans – totally relate to your insight that “one needs to experience, witness or have knowledge of what that feels like to give or receive those feelings first hand. And only then can we as individuals grow and help others grow in the same way.”. The organisation and uk equivalent teaches people about unconditional love and how to experience it first hand in order to be able to learn to love others unconditionally. After years of personal development work and searching Real Love is the only route I have found to peace and happiness and to begin to develop an ability to love others without wanting anything in return. The founder is the US author Dr Greg Baer.

    • Nancy Slessenger
      March 13, 2014 at 7:47 am

      Hi Kathryn,
      Many thanks for sharing this. I’m sure it will be useful to many.

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