When South Africa started down the painful yet necessary road of reconciliation post-apartheid, Nelson Mandela asked Archbishop Desmond Tutu to facilitate a process that would open the wounds of the past yet also precipitate the healing process.
The result was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which laid bare some of apartheid's worst crimes and provided answers for those who had lost their loved ones. In the first days, an overwhelmed Tutu wept uncontrollably – maybe the truth was too much even for a man who had seen some of the worst atrocities. Tutu had been one of the most vocal opponents of the apartheid system when most of the struggle leaders were either in exile, jailed or murdered, and he became a champion of human rights.
Thirty-four years ago today, South Africa witnessed one of the worst outrages of the apartheid regime when the police opened fire on students protesting against the inferior Bantu education offered to black students and the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. More than 300 died in Soweto and over 400 nationally. At this moment of celebration for the new 'rainbow nation', Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, speaks to FIFA.com about how the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ can play a role in South Africa's ongoing process of unification.
FIFA.com: What does the FIFA World Cup mean to Africa and to South Africa, in particular?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu: This FIFA World Cup is a great achievement not only for South Africa but for the whole continent because this is the first time that this great show has been hosted on African soil. We are humbled by this initiative. For the coming month, the world's focus will be on our continent and specifically South Africa. We knew that winning the World Cup bid was not about football, but also an opportunity for the African continent to claim its place on the world stage. So far, it has been a resounding success. When we started on this road, we were subjected to so much doubt and scepticism and a lot of people said Africans will not be ready, but we proved them wrong. This proves that we Africans are capable of delivering these big events – a big shot in the arm for Africa.
A lot has been said about this FIFA World Cup. What legacy do you hope this tournament will leave after the Final on 11 July?
This tournament has given us back a spirit of togetherness, and has reminded us that together we are a force to reckon with. I have always marvelled at the universal language of football, it speaks one language. We hope that this World Cup will reinforce unity in our country. We do not have to share similar opinions on everything, but we can also disagree amicably respecting each other's dignity.
You were in Zurich in 2004 when South Africa was awarded the right to host this FIFA World Cup? Can you take us through those moments before and after the accouncement was made?
I think the most important thing for us there was to convey to the world how much it means to us South Africans to be part of this great showpiece. It is quite difficult to try and describe how I really felt on that special day, it was an emotional day for me. When FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter took that envelope, I think that was the longest minute of my life. When we were announced as winners, I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming because it was simply unbelievable and yet it was so true. In my mind, I have never had any doubt that we would organise a world-class event. After all, we had come out of the apartheid struggle stronger and nothing would stop us from achieving this momentous event. It has taken hard work and dedication to put the infrastructure in place and we are proud of what this country has achieved. Now we want to share our warmth and humanity with the rest of the world.