ROCK HILL — As a child growing up in apartheid South Africa, Naomi Tutu says she often didnt appreciate the power of the proverbs her parents and other adults used.
A person is a person through other people was regularly professed around her familys dinner table, but the phrase didnt have much meaning as Tutu witnessed the oppression of her people the oppression her father fervently fought during government-mandated racial segregation under apartheid rule in South Africa.
It didnt seem to jive with what I was seeing in the country of my birth, she said Wednesday night, sharing her story at Winthrop Universitys Model United Nations conference.
Her father, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, fought the apartheid government and became a global figure in the struggle to end racial oppression in South Africa.
Believing that a person is a person through other people was nearly impossible, Naomi Tutu said, when it seemed as though white South Africans had a wonderful life based on our oppression.
But the proverb rang true when Tutu realized the South African governments and the white populations oppression also was oppressive to themselves. They lived in constant fear of losing the privilege that they had, she said.
After a series of large anti-apartheid rallies and pressure on other countries to disinvest in South Africa until apartheid ended, South Africa saw political transformation in 1994, and gradually after, it saw social change. Tutus father became equally as well-known for his work in rebuilding South Africa through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as he had been for his work in helping dismantle the oppressive government.
Through the hard work of reconciling and healing, Naomi Tutu said, her country found there was one common feature among its people: that we are all human beings.
Speaking to a packed Tillman Auditorium at Winthrop, Tutu said the United States and South Africa are still far from racial equality. But what was true for South Africa (during reconciliation) is true for the world.
As high school and college students prepared to start the first round of Model UN debate at Winthrop, Tutu challenged her audience to be bridge builders referencing a popular South Africa proverb that reads, In the time of floods, the wise build bridges, the fools build walls.
Too often, she said, when crises arise and politicians want to solve a problem, people look for scapegoats and build walls, instead of building bridges and looking for allies. Her message at Winthrop centered around the idea that people who fear those they call others are blocking their nations ability to progress.
We so often close out opportunity for ourselves, for our community, by simply labeling and determining that that group has nothing to add, Tutu said.
After Tutus speech on Wednesday, many students said they felt re-energized for Winthrops 38th annual Model UN conference.
Winthrop sophomore Zach Grieger said Tutus story shed new light on South Africas apartheid history that he hadnt studied before. In his second year with Model UN at Winthrop, he said Tutus involvement was a big deal for the university and the conference.
This year, Winthrops three-day Model UN is being held during the universitys weeklong celebration of the inauguration of its 10th president, Jamie Comstock.
Tutus visit and the Model UN conference support Winthrops commitment to a global awareness (that) filters through all our majors, Comstock said to the assembly before Tutus speech.
For Tutu an author and human rights consultant known for her work in global economic development that awareness is crucial, she said, for students to determine what is the world that you want to inherit.
To achieve global development and prosperity, she said, takes recognizing the humanity of each person on this planet ... if for no other reason but because of the truth of that proverb: a person is a person through other people.
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068