Bishop Tutu's peace ministry

People of goodwill everywhere cannot help being pleased by the awarding of this year's Nobel Peace Prize to South African Bishop Desmond Tutu. The award is a symbolic affirmation of the struggle of blacks for political and economic freedom in that land.

Bishop Tutu, an Anglican, is general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, which represents some 12 million Christians in South Africa. As a black, he is also personally aware of the terrible injustice imposed on his fellow countrymen by the government's system of apartheid, which calls for strict racial separation. Apartheid has been coming under increasing strains in recent years, in large part because of the courage of leaders such as Bishop Tutu, who have continued to speak out against the white-led government, despite threats and intimidation. Under a new Constitution, some nonwhites (Coloreds, i.e, people of mixed racial heritage, and Indians) are allowed into Parliament, but with very limited participation.

Blacks will continue to be excluded.

Will the awarding of the Peace Prize to Bishop Tutu have great impact within South Africa itself? Some experts argue that in a short-term sense, probably not. Bishop Tutu, after all, is well known within his nation as a critic of the government. Pretoria, for its part, has not sought to constrain him directly in recent months. He has, for example, been allowed to travel abroad. In fact, he was at the General Theological Seminary in New York when his prize was announced. The Peace Prize award achieves something more subtle: It could be more difficult for the government to move directly against him, if authorities were so tempted, because of the international outrage that would surely follow.

Bishop Tutu is the second black resistance leader to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The first was Albert John Lutuli, former president of the African National Congress, who won it back in 1960. The African National Congress is outlawed by the South African government.

In awarding the honored Peace Prize to Bishop Tutu, the Nobel Committee said it was drawing attention to the ''nonviolent struggle for liberation to which Desmond Tutu belongs.''

Bishop Tutu has angered some blacks for his nonviolent stance in calling for accommodation among all races. But his moral condemnation of apartheid has been clear and eloquent. ''It just so happens,'' he has said, ''that I am myself black, but the most important thing about me is that I am a Christian leader in South Africa at a critical period in its history.'' He adds: ''I have been given the ministry of reconciliation.''

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