Mpho Tutu van Furth was born in London, England. She is a preacher, teacher, writer and retreat facilitator, and is an Episcopal priest. Shortly after her marriage to Marceline van Furth in 2016, she handed in her licence to officiate in the South African Anglican church, as it does not permit its priests to marry same-sex partners. Tutu van Furth is canonically resident in the USA. She is the daughter of anti-apartheid activists Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Leah Tutu. Tutu van Furth was the founding director of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting projects and initiatives that promote peace and reconciliation for the flourishing of people and the planet.
Mpho Tutu van Furth was interviewed about her life, career and hope for the future for 200 WOMEN, a book and exhibition project founded on the principle of gender equality comprising original interviews and accompanying photographic portraits. This landmark project is the realisation of an epic global journey to find two hundred women with diverse backgrounds, and to ask them what really matters to them.
Q. What really matters to you?
My children. I’ve always said that having children really changed – or, perhaps, cemented – my view of the world. I have two girls and after my older daughter, Nyaniso, was born it was almost like I took a look around and thought: ‘Well, this isn’t good enough for my child!’ The reality is that it’s not a world that feels good enough for my daughters to live in. And in order to have the kind of world that I want for them, the world has to work for everyone else as well.
What’s really important is that all of us – people and planet – ought to be able to flourish. Nobody can flourish in circumstances of abject poverty. Nobody can flourish in circumstances of sickness and want, or in places of war. No one can flourish when they’re stigmatised, or when they’re set aside. No one can flourish when they are treated as if they don’t matter. We need to create a world in which all of us can flourish.
Q. What brings you happiness?
I couldn’t choose one thing; I have at least seven! I’d like to say ‘joy’ instead of ‘happiness,’ though. My joys are in moments with my children and in the kind of intense engagement I can have with my wife. When I am presiding at the Eucharist, I feel completely in my own body. And I sometimes get lost – absorbed – in drawing or painting. And I love to cook.
Q. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Recently I was at an orphanage established by a pastor and his wife. He was talking to me about the basic-income grant – the welfare grant that the orphanage’s children were supposed to receive – and he said that only four of the thirty-one children at the orphanage are actually receiving it. This is because although the money had been sent by the government, it had been pocketed by someone in the office that was supposed to distribute it.
That kind of casual corruption which has absolutely no regard for the welfare of a person down the line makes me weep. It’s such a casual cruelty. I think, ‘What was it? Did that sum of money buy you another handbag or another pair of shoes? It’s not enough to make the difference between whether or not you have a roof over your head, but it would have been enough to make a difference for the child who was supposed to get it.’
I’m not disheartened because, for me, nothing is impossible. My generation overcame apartheid, so we carry in us the knowledge that we can change the world. The corruption that we confront today doesn’t always have to be so – we can change it.
Q. What would you change if you could?
Can we start small and get rid of patriarchy?
I went on a pirate ship with my younger daughter, Onalenna, and the guy wanted to paint a heart on her cheek and give her the pink whistle. She wanted a moustache and a blue whistle. He said, ‘Are you sure you’re a girl?’ I said, ‘Yes, she’s sure she’s a girl; she’s just a girl who wants a moustache and a blue whistle!’ When she was four years old, she had to write down what she wanted to do when she grows up, and she said she wanted to rule the world. I don’t know if we’ll ever have a female president in South Africa, but if our girls have an attitude like that, who knows?
As a mother of girl children, I know that if we can fix the world for girl children, we will fix it for all children. Even in South Africa, with its amazingly enlightened constitution and women of courage who have demonstrated their skill, ability, passion, intelligence, fortitude and leadership, there are still women who go home to the most unsafe place on earth. For the large number of women who are still victims of domestic violence, for the number of women and girls who are subjected to rape and sexual abuse, our wonderfully enlightened constitution is really words on a piece of paper – it hasn’t yet become the reality of their lives.
Q. Which single word do you most identify with?
I still say ‘love.’ When in doubt, do the most loving thing.