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Tutu's Daughter: A Child of Apartheid Speaks Out

March 16, 1986|GARY LIBMAN

To Naomi Tutu-Seavers, laughter is necessary when considering the plight of black South Africans.

"If you didn't," she said recently before a lecture at Occidental College, "you could end up shooting yourself or crying constantly."

So the daughter of Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, laughed after describing police whipping her husband from Kentucky on his second visit to Johannesburg in 1982.

Seated in the colonial style Faculty Club at the Eagle Rock school, Tutu-Seavers, 25, said that she and Corbin Seavers were standing near their car after a church service when they saw three policemen with shields chasing the church rector. The police caught him and started to whip him.

Tutu-Seavers said her husband showed the police his American passport and asked them to stop. The police whipped Corbin and her--both bear scars from the blows--and knocked them down. Her family told Seavers that the beating made him a full-fledged black South African.

Violence of Apartheid

Stories about the violence of apartheid are, of course, ultimately not funny to Tutu-Seavers, who works in Hartford, Conn., for a firm that consults on sub-Saharan African development, and, on her yearly visits home, often tells people what she thinks about the system.

Once, she said, she and her sister spoke English as they left their father's church and walked to their car.

"We passed a white couple who said something about blacks who think they're hot stuff because they can speak English," she said.

"I just tore into them. It went on and on and we ended up screaming at them at the elevators, where we were going in opposite directions."

Age 16 at the time, she says that today she tries to avoid shouting matches.

More often she makes speeches for the Bishop Tutu Refugee Fund, which aids South African refugees, or the Bishop Tutu Southern African Refugee Scholarship Fund, which provides American college educations for the refugees.

She lectures almost every weekend, and, wearing one side of her hair in corn rows and the other in braids, her quiet, bleak elaboration of South African life kept the Occidental audience riveted. She may no longer shout, but remains outspoken.

"We've been taught that you don't just take it," she said.

"I've managed to get into enough of my own fights with white South Africans and very often over petty things. But you know, it's an affront to your dignity that somebody feels they can get away with pushing you out of the line because you're black or telling you to wait while they serve someone who came in later. . . .

Questioning Your Worth

"I mean if you're constantly treated in that way you start questioning your worth, and . . . I feel like if I let it go, then I've let them determine my importance."

Tutu-Seavers derived many of these views from her father, 54, and her mother, Leah, 53, who directs an agency in South Africa that provides arbitration and legal counsel for domestic workers.

She said that for all his firmness fighting apartheid, the 5-foot-2 1/2 Anglican bishop often wears a "little puppy dog hurt look" at home when he is upset with one of the family.

"He had the world's worst punishment," she said, "and that was he wouldn't shout or anything, just sit you down and tell you how disappointed he was in you.

". . . I had those kind of talks about twice in my life and that was enough.

"Once he said that . . . he's more hurt than angry that you've done something, that really makes you think twice about doing it."

Her brother, Trevor, 29, and her sisters, Thandi, 28, and Mpho, 22, also tried to avoid the discipline. Trevor and Thandi work in South Africa while Mpho studies electrical engineering at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

She is only a few hours away from Naomi, who has lived in the United States since she came here at 18 to attend Berea College in Berea, Ky.

A spokesman said that when it was founded in 1855, the school became the first integrated college in the South. It is located 40 miles south of Lexington on a 140-acre campus near the Appalachian Mountains. The 1,500 students impressed Bishop Tutu during a 1976 visit.

Naomi Tutu helped pay for her education by working as a janitor and as a teaching assistant in English and French, but she did not work all the time.

In her first year she met Seavers, the son of a black Methodist minister from Louisville.

When the couple married four years later in Soweto, he adjusted to South Africa with difficulty.

"He'd be out shopping," Tutu-Seavers recalled, "and say well, I'm hungry. I want to get stuff to eat. And I'd say, that's a whites-only restaurant.

"Those are just the simple things. There's other things about you don't walk around town without your passport because if they stopped you there's nothing to say you're a black American. He's not used to having everything governed so much."

French and Economics

Tutu-Seavers earned a bachelor's degree in French and economics at Berea and a master's degree in economics from the University of Kentucky.

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