I first met him in 2003 as a journalist when I was working on a story in South Africa with the photographer Brian Moody. In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, I had also just started collecting stories from around the world that focused specifically on people’s experience of forgiveness. As the world’s most prominent advocate of forgiveness, I contacted Tutu’s personal secretary to ask if he would meet with us and was astonished when the answer came back that, yes, the Archbishop had a free hour the following day.
Dressed in his purple clerical robes we sat in his modest office in Cape Town’s seaside suburb of Milnerton, drinking tea and talking about his favourite topic – forgiveness. I asked him about his own personal experience during the apartheid times, but he was adamant that to share anything of his personal life would place the attention in the wrong place. In other words, it was the stories of those he had heard at TRC hearings that needed to be told. Then he proceeded to talk about the Craddock Four; how during the bitter apartheid years the police had ambushed their car, killed them in the most gruesome manner and then set their car alight. Later, at a TRC hearing, the teenage daughter of one of the victims was asked if she would be able to forgive the people who had done this to her family, and she answered, “We would like to forgive, but we would just like to know who to forgive.” Tutu was in awe of this answer. “How fantastic,” he said to me, “to see this young girl, still human despite all efforts to dehumanise her.”
Nine months after meeting Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, the stories I had collected in South Africa, including Tutu’s statement on forgiveness, became part of The F Word exhibition which opened in London in January 2004. I had heard that the Archbishop happened to be in London at exactly this time and sent a message inviting him to the launch where a number of the exhibition’s storytellers were due to gather. Even though I was told that he was unlikely to be free that evening, to our delight he turned up at the last minute and stayed the duration. He seemed thrilled to meet so many people whose pain had been transformed through their ability to forgive.