Politics, religion: tough balancing act for Bishop Tutu

WHEN Bishop Desmond Tutu returns to South Africa early in 1985, he may find himself under intense pressure to fill the black leadership void he has consistently bemoaned.

But the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize-winner and new Anglican bishop of Johannesburg will find the task difficult, political analysts here say.

While blacks are expected to greet the returning Bishop Tutu with heightened political expectations, whites - particularly those in the Anglican Church - are increasingly apprehensive about his political views. The South African government, as always, will keep a close and suspicious eye on Tutu.

Before leaving South Africa on sabbatical two months ago, a distraught Tutu said one of his greatest worries was that since the government had imprisoned the true leaders, blacks were essentially leaderless.

Asked about his own status, Tutu said in an interview at that time: ''I am a leader by default, only because nature does not allow a vacuum.''

Now Tutu has had the mantle of a leader thrust upon him. His sabbatical in New York was interrupted by two important honors: the Nobel Peace Prize and his election in South Africa as the new Anglican Church's bishop of Johannesburg. Tutu became something of a celebrity in the United States, and his outspoken criticism of South Africa has inspired blacks and angered whites here at home.

How Tutu handles the conflicting pressures that are expected to greet him when he returns home next month remains to be seen. But those who know him well say a hallmark of his career has been an ability to carefully balance his political and religious roles.

Black political sympathies are sharply divided in South Africa along ideological, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. But Tutu is undoubtedly one of the most popular black leaders in South Africa, particularly in the more politically active urban communities, such as Soweto, the black township near Johannesburg, where he lives.

And Tutu's political standing has been ''greatly enhanced'' by winning the Nobel Peace Prize, says Percy Qoboza, a black political commentator for the City Press newspaper in Johannesburg.

Blacks here were impressed recently by the image imprinted in their newspapers and flashed across their television screens of Tutu sitting down for a chat with President Ronald Reagan - an honor South Africa's white president has not enjoyed.

But the heightened political expectations of blacks may not mesh well with Tutu's new post as bishop of Johannesburg, one of the most powerful positions in the Anglican Church in southern Africa.

The rigors of the new job and the very evident apprehensions of some white Anglicans could put pressure on Tutu to adopt a less visible political role, some analysts say. (The Anglican Church here is predominantly black, but whites remain influential.) Tutu leaves his post as general secretary of the South African Council of Churches. Yet other analysts point out that Tutu will actually enjoy more autonomy as bishop of Johannesburg than he did at the SACC. ''He probably won't have time to rush around the world'' so his international visibility may well fall off, says an Anglican church member who knows Tutu well. ''But the political weight of his point of view could be even greater locally now that he is bishop (of Johannesburg),'' she says.

Tutu has already angered many whites in South Africa with his frequent calls while overseas for stronger economic pressures against his country.

His most stinging remark was when he told an overseas audience a few weeks ago that blacks in South Africa would probably prefer a Soviet invasion to a continuation of the government's policies of racial segregation.

South Africa's white newspapers have been awash in letters denouncing Tutu. Within the Anglican Church, some whites threatened to withdraw from membership or end their financial contributions to the church, church sources indicate.

The white anger may be partly due to misunderstanding. Tutu is widely perceived by whites as backing the call for foreign firms to withdraw their investments in South Africa.

But Tutu has stopped short of calling for ''disinvestment.'' Instead, he urges foreign companies and governments to use economic pressure to force the South African government to change now before disinvestment becomes the only remaining option.

While hotly debated among whites, the question of disinvestment is not a prominent issue among blacks, say black political analysts. It is seen rather as a hypothetical, intellectual debate without immediate relevance, these analysts say.

Yet black views on disinvestment appear to be divided. ''There are a lot of blacks in powerful positions who do not see disinvestment as a viable instrument for bringing about political change,'' says Qoboza. Zulu chief Gatsha Buthelezi is among them. Indeed, a recent opinion survey by Prof. Lawrence Schlemmer of the University of Natal in Durban found that a ''large majority'' of black workers favor continued and increased US investment in South Africa.

However, these same workers were inclined to support organizations that are pushing for disinvestment.

At the same time, black workers have shown a rising willingness to suffer economically for political goals.

In early November, most black workers in South Africa's important Transvaal Province stayed away from work at the risk of losing their jobs in support of a political protest against the government.

While there appears to be no clear consensus among blacks on disinvestment, Tutu's urging of greater economic pressure from foreign firms and governments does not appear to have cost him any support among blacks.

Tutu has used his stature as a church leader to stay above the fray of black political infighting.

Tutu is one of very few blacks invited to address gatherings of rival factions, such as the National Forum (following in the footsteps of the black consciousness movement) and the United Democratic Front (following in the footsteps of the banned African National Congress).

Yet Qoboza says this does not mean Tutu is aloof from these movements. Rather it signifies that he has strong links with both.

When Tutu addresses these groups, he often admonishes them to stop emphasizing what divides blacks and focus on their common goals. Tutu also denounces the use of violence in bringing about political change.

Tutu's new position as bishop of Johannesburg came about with serious dissent in the Anglican Church. The assembly of the Johannesburg diocese, which is meant to elect its own bishop, was unable to muster the necessary two-thirds support for Tutu.

The decision was then turned over to a synod of the bishops of southern Africa, who elected Tutu.

Johannesburg is the most populous and the richest diocese in southern Africa. (There are 17 dioceses.) And while more than half of the bishops in southern Africa are black, Tutu is the first black to be named bishop of such a strongly white diocese as Johannesburg.

6 As bishop of Johannesburg, Tutu will have almost full autonomy and locally will be answerable to no one.

The most senior Anglican official in southern Africa is the archbishop of Cape Town. But church officials say it is not correct to view the archbishop as the boss of the bishops.

There is precedent for Anglican bishops to be politically influential in South Africa in opposition to the government. But ''it is a position that is molded by the person who holds it,'' church analysts say.

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