Mpho Tutu van Furth is the daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu - a leading opponent of apartheid in South Africa, whose awards include the Nobel peace prize in 1984, and the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2007.
Mpho Tutu van Furth co-authored The Book of Forgiving with her father - outlining a fourfold path for healing ourselves and the world.
The act of forgiveness was central in a post-apartheid South Africa as a way of people to get over the extreme traumas faced at the butt end of a brutal regime
More recently in her personal life Tutu Van Furth was forced to relinquish her Anglican priesthood in South Africa over her same-sex marriage.
She will be in Auckland this month for the Auckland Writer’s Festival.
Tutu van Furth told Wallace Chapman after the apartheid regime fell there wasn’t a common history agreed on, with each racial strand in South Africa having its own experience of what it meant to be South African.
“All of those stories seemed like conflicting stories rather than common stories.”
She says the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a court-like restorative body set up in post-apartheid South Africa, as well as generous acts of forgiveness, were crucial in establishing South Africa.
The commission did require truth, but it did not require forgiveness and reconciliation, she says.
“Forgiveness was the generous gift of those who had been victims… Reconciliation was the hope that they invested in giving forgiveness.”
She says in order to achieve reconciliation, forgiveness is absolutely necessary.
“If we have any hope of creating a society in which we can live together, that truth and forgiveness and reconciliation are absolutely necessary.
Her father is the same in private as he is in public, she says.
“For the most part, the person who you see on the world stage who is ready to laugh, and ready with a joke and loving and generous is the person who we experienced at home.
But she says her father was also very clear about what was right and what was wrong.
“There were things which I think were really helpful for us as children.”
Growing up the household was shaped around her father’s rhythm, she says.
“He would have hours of time that he was spending in prayer or in silence… My mother really guarded my father’s prayer time.
It was always clear to her were that her parents loved God and each other and they loved their children, in that order.
The book recalls death threats the family received as a result of Desmond Tutu’s activism. While he considered stopping his work, she says he considered the wider implications for other children.
“Mine aren’t the only ones who have to endure the indignities of apartheid.”
She says there’s an idea that forgiveness is something given to other people, but actually it’s a gift you give to yourself.
“When you forgive the other person, it really frees you to move on.”
Tutu recently had to relinquish her more Anglican priesthood over her marriage to her partner, a Dutch woman.
She was ordained in the United States and was licensed in South Africa, but the issue of same-sex marriage is not one that is settled in the communion.
In South Africa she cannot exercise her priestly ministry, but she can the United States.
“It comes with more than a small piece of pain that the Anglican Church in South Africa still denies the ordained ministry to people in same sex relationships.”
Mpho Tutu van will be speaking at the Auckland Writers Festival on May 20.