Throughout most of the 20th century the nonwhite population of South Africa suffered from discrimination. This included legislation that prevented nonwhites from voting in elections. One fervent campaigner against this discrimination was Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Tutu, who retired as the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town in 1996, had been a long-time campaigner for equal rights for nonwhites because he believed that the racist political system in South Africa did not measure up to the standards of the Christian religion. Tutu argued that the Bible teaches that all men are equal; the South African political system taught that nonwhites were second-class citizens. In 1984, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his campaigning.
Tutu was born in 1931, and began his career as a teacher. After studying theology, he became a Church of England minister in 1960. Having completed a master's degree at King's College in London, he returned to South Africa to teach theology. In 1975, he was the first black minister to be appointed dean of St. Mary's Cathedral in Johannesburg. He was appointed bishop of Lesotho in 1978 and archbishop in 1986. He is a lively and energetic character, always full of fun. As Archbishop, he would often get up at 4 o'clock in the morning to pray for up to an hour. It was his spirituality and his religious faith that led him into the field of politics. For Tutu, being a Christian meant opposing prejudice and racism in South Africa.
By the mid-1990s, the racist political system known as apartheid had been demolished, and in 1994 nonwhites were able to vote for the first time in a democratic election. Nelson Mandela, who became the nation's president, set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with Desmond Tutu as its chair. The Commission began its work in 1996, and presented a five-volume report to President Mandela in 1998.
For much of the 20th century, South Africa practiced apartheid. This meant that whites and nonwhites developed and lived separately. There were separate schools for white children; if families went to visit the beach, the whites enjoyed the best areas while the nonwhites bathed together at separate beaches. In the event of a road accident, two ambulances would be called, one for the white victims and one for the nonwhites. Shops had separate entrances; the whites would enter by the front entrance while the nonwhites would enter elsewhere. Nonwhites were not generally permitted in areas where the white population lived. They had to carry a pass that indicated which areas they were allowed to visit. Many of the nonwhites lived in townships or slum areas outside the major cities.
The injustice of apartheid led to hate, violence, and killing. This was not only between the white and nonwhite communities, but sometimes also within various nonwhite communities themselves, as different political parties and individuals argued for different ways to end the apartheid system. In 1960, black South Africans organized a peaceful protest against the injustice of apartheid at Sharpeville. The white South African police killed 69 protesters. Many were shot in the back-they clearly represented no threat to the police at all. In 1976, a group of unarmed schoolchildren were shot and killed as they demonstrated against the fact that they were not allowed to be educated in their own language, but had to receive their schooling in Afrikaans, the language of the whites. Blacks would often be arrested by the police, and some would die while in police detention. In 1994, the apartheid system came to an end.
Nonwhites were allowed to vote, and they were no longer treated as second-class citizens. Nelson Mandela's government had to decide what to do with all the people, white and nonwhite, who had caused so much suffering and death in previous years. Three options were available. First, it could set up courts to try those who were alleged to have carried out crimes. This option would be very costly, and in many cases it would be difficult to find people who had witnessed incidents. It was therefore rejected. Second, the government could offer amnesty-it could say that crimes that had taken place under the apartheid system were to be forgotten, and that no one could bring criminal proceedings against anyone. That seemed to be unfair to those who had suffered, so Nelson Mandela recommended to the South African Parliament that it should set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The act of Parliament that set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said that people who had committed politically motivated crimes would be granted amnesty-they would be forgiven-provided that they made a full confession to the Commission. In addition, anyone who had been a victim was offered a hearing at one of the Commission's meetings-their story would be listened to and recorded.