THE decision by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to withdraw from the Discovery Leadership Summit, taking place on Thursday, has sparked a rerun of the debate around the US- and UK-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Archbishop Tutu says the reason he is no longer speaking at the summit is because of his distaste for the role played by former British prime minister Tony Blair during that conflict.
Blair is still due to speak at the gathering, but the two were never expected to share a stage.
However, it appears the archbishop managed to capture the public imagination with his decision, amid some questions about the timing of his announcement.
In the statement announcing his withdrawal, he says the Iraqi invasion was “morally indefensible”, while his spokesperson, Roger Friedman, has stressed the role of prayer in the decision.
However, he must have been aware from the beginning of his discussions with the summit’s organisers that Blair was also speaking. The event has received heavy advertising, and Blair appears to be the headline act. It would appear unlikely that the archbishop would have made this decision at the last minute. At the very least, he could be accused of treating Discovery unfairly.
Archbishop Tutu’s views on war and violence are well known, as a moral beacon in our society, he has been outspoken against both. He is also famous for standing up to those he deems immoral. His acts against the apartheid government and his condemnation of the African National Congress for refusing the Dalai Lama a visa earlier this year are proof that he is well aware of his reputation. Indeed, so strong his is global brand that Blair’s office issued a statement that while he was disappointed with the decision, it was one that the former prime minister accepted.
Archbishop Tutu’s announcement has received extensive coverage, both here and abroad. It is the topic of conversation around the world, particularly in Britain.
As an individual with much experience of politics and the media, it seems likely he would have known the reaction his withdrawal would spark. Timing can be very important in politics, and by making his decision public just two days before the event would appear to maximise its impact.
However, it would not appear that Discovery would feel hard done by in this case. While it had to find a replacement speaker at short notice, the media attention Archbishop Tutu’s decision has received should ensure that the event is a success. Tickets to attend cost more than R5,000, and Discovery has confirmed that attendees will not receive a discount.
While it will not release details of the financial arrangements for the various speakers, it has confirmed that a contribution was made to Archbishop Tutu’s charitable trust.
Discovery officials say that as that organisation is a “good cause” they will not ask for the money back. There would be appear to be no other course open to them; to request a refund would be to invite huge public criticism.
This decision has given hope to those here who wish to perform a “citizens’ arrest” of Blair. The Society for the Defence of the Constitution — an NGO which has previously tried to intervene in the Zuma Spear case, the decision to withdraw corruption charges against Zuma and the Julius Malema hate speech case — claims to have asked the National Prosecuting Authority to arrest Blair.
That seems very unlikely. While the organisation cites “international law” as justifying its position, Blair was acting as a head of government during the Iraqi invasion. And on previous occasions, such as a visit by then Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, officials here have ignored such calls.