A council of Elders has been formed, pushed by Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel, and composed of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, andAung San Suu Kyi, symbolically represented by an empty chair:
The Elders have no formal role – nor, Mr. Mandela stressed, will they seek to replace or compete with any official or elected body. None of the group was willing to commit specifically to which issues they will take on, although former Irish president Mary Robinson said they are already at work. Darfur was mentioned repeatedly and a source who sat in on one of their meetings told The Globe that they have also made overtures to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, seeking to negotiate a way to have him leave office..Read the whole article here.
But former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said it would be fine with him if no one outside their council ever knew what issues they worked on. “The Elders neither want, nor will we ever have, any kind of authority except that that comes from common moral values,” he said. “We will be able to risk failure and we will not need to claim successes.”
The group's work is being funded with an initial infusion of $18-million (U.S.) by wealthy friends of Sir Richard.
Introducing him and Mr. Gabriel, the archbishop remarked that he should ask Mr. Gabriel to sing Biko – his iconic hymn about the murder of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko 30 years ago. Sir Richard's head snapped up at that, and he shouldered his way back to the microphone, saying, “If you won't ask him, I will!” Moments later an abashed-looking Mr. Gabriel found himself in front of the crowd, clearing his throat.
It was a fitting place to sing this song: the gathering was held on the grounds of South Africa's Constitutional Court, which was once an apartheid prison. As the archbishop said, “This was a place of tears, of suffering, of humiliation. People were detained without trial here, people were tortured here. But they didn't buckle.”
So Mr. Gabriel squared his shoulders and sang Biko, every haunting word, and the audience – journalists and dignitaries and a row of South Africa's Constitutional Court justices – joined him with a low and rhythmic hum.
Tumultuous applause erupted as he finished, but then just as quickly died away, as people noticed the archbishop: He was hunched over, hands clutched in fists, weeping inconsolably.
“We stand on the shoulders of incredible people,” he choked out, taking off his glasses and wiping the tears. “We owe our freedom to incredible people.”
It's people and events like this that remind my why my activism is worthwhile, and that give me the strength to carry on.