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19 juillet 2007

Current of joy powers The Elders' peace gathering

...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."

Mr. Mandela said, with what sounded like a note of genuine regret, that "I am trying to take my retirement seriously" and so would not participate in the hands-on work of his group of Elders. But he will, as Mr. Branson said, pick up the phone when he needs to, using his unique level of moral suasion to get others involved.

In the end, Mr. Mandela left the gathering to celebrate his birthday with his children and grandchildren, and the other Elders went to work. Archbishop Tutu, dancing a little jig, sent everyone into the world with a final observation: "We have been through incredible times and God has helped us to see that the evil doesn't have the last word. It's ultimately goodness and laughter and joy," he said. "Those are what are going to prevail in the end."



Sir Richard Branson

British adventurer, promoter, humanitarian and head of the Virgin brand of more than 350 companies

"You are a thousand years of collected wisdom."

Peter Gabriel

British musician and humanitarian

"Many people around the world are losing faith - our dream was that there might still be a group of people we could trust. ... Whose strength was based [only] on the faith they themselves had earned through their remarkable lives."....

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