Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivering a lecture in Juba, South Sudan, to commemorate the country's first independence anniversary on July 8, 2012. PHOTO | FILE
Many decades ago, hundreds of thousands of British people joined the anti-apartheid campaign. They signed petitions and refused to buy South African produce. They went to protest concerts, demonstrated, lobbied their government, and kept a vigil outside South Africa House in London.
The passion and commitment that inspired those campaigners were born out of a great tradition of justice and compassion. They left no doubt as to the enormity of the evil that apartheid represented, and they persuaded millions more to the cause.
Those same campaigners came together after apartheid was dismantled to demand the cancellation of developing countries' debt, and again in 2005 to demand that poverty gets consigned to history. They have also worked tirelessly for more than forty years to realise the promise made by the wealthiest countries to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on aid.
These campaigns have mobilised successive generations to demand justice for the poorest people on earth, recognising that to do nothing while poverty destroys our neighbours is equally destructive of our souls.
We are called upon to hold ourselves, and our communities, accountable to the moral standard of this tradition when we declare today that poverty and hunger are the great evil and injustice of this age, abhorrent in a world of plenty.
You, the great British public, have kept this moral tradition alive, uncoiling the spring that keeps some of the world’s poorest, vulnerable and most marginalised peoples shackled to poverty, illiteracy, disease, and hunger.
I could simply give you statistics, such as the fact that almost a third of all children in developing countries are considered underweight, or suffering from stunted growth. Yet statistics do not tell the story. You have to put yourself in the place of ‘the other’, and imagine that it is your granddaughter, your grandson, your son, your daughter, your niece or nephew, fading away before your very eyes.
You have to imagine that there is nothing you can do, because your child, or your grandchild, has not been able to receive simple inoculations against diseases like measles. And you can do nothing about it, because you yourself are feeling debilitated, for you too have not had enough to eat.
The 'Enough Food for Everyone' IF campaign knows that - to tackle the root causes of hunger - aid alone will never be enough; we have to knock down the Jericho Walls of the global systems that are keeping people poor.
'An act of injustice'
Looking at the hundred or so charities across Britain that have joined together for this campaign, I recognise veterans of the struggle against apartheid and debt - Oxfam, Christian Aid, CAFOD and many more - some inspired by their faith, some by their compassion - all driven by their steadfast refusal to accept the status quo of poverty and hunger in the 21st century.
By coming together and mobilising communities across the UK, these charities are telling your government that meeting the needs of those living in poverty is a national priority, just as much as meeting the needs of people living in Britain.
It tells your policy makers and decision takers that – even against a backdrop of a global economic downturn, and austerity measures in your country – they cannot abandon the poor of the world.
The UK's commitment to reach the 0.7 per cent goal represents powerful leadership, and a generosity of spirit of which you, as a nation, should be proud. You continue to see spending on aid as a moral issue, the difference between life and death for women, children and men.
Aid restores hope, it gives back dignity, and it truly transforms lives. It is the basis from which we can begin to transform the societies and power structures in poor countries, so that we can truly tackle the root causes of that poverty.
I am reminded that 7 years ago this month, a rallying call was made to the people of Britain by my dear beloved friend 'Madiba' -Nelson Mandela – he called on them to rise up and never to remain silent in the face of injustice, oppression, suffering, and poverty. He told the world from his platform in Trafalgar Square that “overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice”.
I come from a beautiful land, richly endowed by God with wonderful natural resources, wide expanses, rolling mountains, singing birds, bright shining stars out of blue skies, with radiant sunshine, golden sunshine. There are enough of these good things that come from God’s bounty. And there is enough of God’s bounty for everyone if we are all prepared to make a stand.
God bless you.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond M Tutu of Cape Town