WASHINGTON — Bishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, cheered on an anti-apartheid demonstration near the South African Embassy on Wednesday as organizers of the yearlong protests prepared to shift their focus to U.S. corporations doing business with the white minority regime.
Folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary performed at the rally and later were arrested with 12 others after they linked hands and sang "We Shall Overcome" on embassy property. They were arrested on a misdemeanor charge of violating a District of Columbia law that prohibits demonstrations within 500 feet of an embassy.
Tutu, wearing a black cap and a gray parka over his magenta cassock, told a crowd of 300 gathered in below-freezing temperatures that apartheid is neither a political nor an economic issue, but a question of morality.
He called the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the conservative Moral Majority, an apologist for an "evil system" and said Falwell's outspokenness backfired and triggered support for the anti-apartheid movement. After a trip to South Africa last year, Falwell called for continued investment in the country and referred to Tutu as a phony.
"To his credit, that particular gentleman did send me a long telegram of apology," said Tutu, who is on a three-week tour of the United States. "But it was a left-handed apology."
Standing on a box, the diminutive black Anglican prelate repeatedly thanked the protesters, whose daily demonstrations outside the embassy last year sparked international attention and led to marches and arrests on college campuses nationwide.
Protest leaders presented him with a truckload of cardboard boxes that were said to contain a million letters from Americans repudiating Falwell and declaring opposition to apartheid.
As Tutu spoke, a coalition known as the Free South Africa Movement, which has organized the embassy demonstrations, prepared to announce plans today to shift the protests from the embassy to American corporations that conduct business in South Africa.
Glenn McKeown, a spokesman for TransAfrica, a black American lobby, said the demonstrations successfully brought attention to the racial practices of the South African government and that now the emphasis must shift to the role played by American companies.
The campaign will include demonstrations against corporations and possibly boycotts, with the first target of the protest to be announced today. A coalition source identified the corporation as Shell Oil Co., a subsidiary of the Royal Dutch-Shell Group.
Washington Mayor Marion Barry told the crowd that he has sent the City Council legislation to change the name of the section of Massachusetts Ave. where the embassy is located to Nelson and Winnie Mandela Ave.