Filed at 10:30 a.m. ET
CAPE TOWN (Reuters)--Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the sharpest critics of apartheid, returned home "to sleep'' Thursday, looking thin and frail after two years of cancer treatment in the United States.
"I want to come home to sleep,'' Tutu told reporters as he stepped gingerly off a flight from Atlanta where he had been teaching and writing while being treated for prostate cancer.
But, characteristically, the man affectionately known to South Africans as "the Arch'' did not appear quite ready to withdraw from public life as he spoke about the subjects close to his heart--reconciliation and helping South Africa's poor.
"We are all participants in the process of reconciliation. We must celebrate our diversity,'' he told reporters. "It is a dream. It is a vision. It is an ideal to strive after.
Tutu, 68, South Africa's moral conscience for nearly two decades, admitted that his ill health had played a part in his decision to bow out.
"As you can see, I am a great deal more decrepit than I was two years ago.'' He said his recovery from surgery last November had been far slower than expected.
"We have a cadre of outstanding new leaders. We oldies should give them space to show off their wares,'' he said. "I have had the privilege of making a small contribution. It is now time to move off center stage...and watch from the wings.
"The Arch is going lala,'' he added, using his nickname and an indigenous word for sleep.
Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, was greeted warmly by a few friends and a local municipal official, but not by any representative of the government or of the Anglican Church, in which he retains the rank of Archbishop Emeritus.
Tutu, wearing a black suit with a purple shirt and silver cross, urged South Africans to be positive about their country, saying it remained a beacon of hope for other countries.
"We in South Africa should be celebrating our achievements, not moaning and complaining,'' he said. "Can you tell me one country in the world that does not have problems?''
He called on the international community, particularly the United States, to set up a fund for southern Africa similar in principle to the Marshall Plan that poured money into the post-World War Two reconstruction of Europe.
A small, snowy-haired figure with a puckish sense of humour and an infectious giggle who radiates warmth like an open fire, Tutu has often used his sharp wit to make serious points.
On the eve of his retirement in 1996 he took on the task of running the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,* digging into the often shocking acts committed by all sides under apartheid.
"When I was in the United States I was getting 120 invitations a month for speaking engagements. People wanted to hear how did you do what you did in South Africa,'' Tutu said.
"Everywhere the interest in the Truth Commission process* was quite phenomenal. The world says: 'We derive hope for our own situation from what you in South Africa have done','' he added.
Tutu, who coined the term "rainbow nation'' to describe the South Africa emerging into democracy, called for robust debate among all races about the future but said it must not be allowed to descend into accusations of racism.
(text of August 17, 2000 New York Times On The Web article)
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company
*-TO CONSIDER INFORMATION RELEVANT TO THE SUBJECT OF MY FRIEND DESMOND'S TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION, READ THE PREFACE TO THE TERM OF REFERENCE TO BE FOUND IF YOU TAKE YOUR NEXT FOOTSTEP HERE.
INCIDENTALLY, I WISH DESMOND A FULL AND SPEEDY RECOVERY.
I HOPE TO MAKE A TRIP TO VISIT SOUTH AFRICA NEXT YEAR, INTENDING TO MEET HIM, GOD WILLING.