While Desmond and Leah Tutu have a finite number of biological children – four, at the last count: Trevor, Thandeka, Nontombi and me – their words and actions have inspired an almost infinite number of individuals, institutions and initiatives that collectively constitute the extended family and form the constituent parts of their practical legacy.
This broader family could be likened to a tree. The parents are the seeds; they provide the healthy roots and trunk structure. The branches and foliage are populated by a myriad of neighbourhoods and societies and enterprises – scholarship programmes, research fellowships and local initiatives for good, among them – that operate relatively autonomously of one another and are not always aware of their inter-dependence.
Perhaps it would be apt to label it an Ubuntu tree.
This is the tree you see before you today as the symbol of the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation. We’re not botanists, but it’s the only species we know of that produces fruits of many colours all year round!
It’s a tree representing our community; a family that includes many members of the of the audience tonight, and others who will be joining us electronically for our Ubuntu Train conversation at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology tomorrow.
This very space is integral to our community, this University of the Western Cape, where Archbishop Tutu and Professor Jakes Gerwel, then-chancellor and vice-chancellor, respectively, presided over graduations for so many years. It is a community that extends from this former university of struggle to a university that could be described as once having been the intellectual crucible of apartheid, Stellenbosch, alma mater of the likes of Hendrick Verwoerd – and all the way to King’s College in London and Vrije University in Amsterdam.
Just an hour ago, on this campus, the Archbishop witnessed the signing of a new partnership between Vrije University and the National Research Foundation which will see the creation of 60 more Desmond Tutu PhD scholarships.
The Legacy Foundation was established in 2011 after members of the family met and determined that the tree was worth preserving – for perpetuity, with all its fruits and leaves and twigs and branches. I can assure you, it’s not quite as simple as fencing it off to stop people carving their names in the trunk.
The Foundation provides the platform for the continuation of old partnerships and the creation of new relationships – to continue the work.
The circumstances and sites of struggle may have changed over the years but the universal principles that Desmond and Leah Tutu havearticulated throughout their lives remain as relevant today – and for tomorrow: Servant leadership, flourishing people and a healthy planet.
The Legacy Foundation provides a centralised forum to align, guide, promote and support the preservation of the Ubuntu Tree, and to stimulate new growth. It houses the Archbishop’s office – here is one thing on which I must agree with the old National Party; he is as impossible to manage as they said he was – and is responsible for administering his physical and intellectual property.
Among the highlights on our calendar is the annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture, an African platform for the exchange of global intellectual ideas about peace. We send warm greetings from Cape Town to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Mrs Graca Machel who preceded tonight’s esteemed speaker on this stage.
Thank you to Mr Annan for agreeing to grace our platform tonight, to the staff members of the Legacy Foundation and UWC who put tonight’s event together, and to all of you who have joined us. We are particularly grateful to those who have travelled from afar.
It is our dream that new generations will find shelter under the Ubuntu Tree, with a new set of tools to advance the principles of servant leadership – fertilizing it for eternity.
Happy birthday Mummy and Daddy! We love and treasure you.
* Reverend Mpho Tutu is Executive Director of the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.