Bishop Tutu Meets Disneyland, and Thrill Is Mutual


When the “the happiest place on earth” greeted the world’s jolliest cleric Saturday, the result was mutual glee.

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the moral leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, thrilled Disneyland visitors who recognized him as he smiled and chuckled his way through the park, hugging Mickey Mouse, riding a carousel with his grandson and dancing in a conga line.

His visit resulted partly from a promise to his grandson, Xabiso Tutu, 3, who is learning English while living in Atlanta, where his mother is studying medicine. Wearing the traditional black-eared hat with his name sewn on, Xabiso solemnly and politely shook hands with Mickey Mouse. But Tutu said he was actually “using the child as an excuse.”


“I’ve always wanted to come. Now I can say I have been,” he said.

Tutu’s wife, Leah, who had toured the park once before, said she thought Tutu would enjoy the park as much as his grandson, especially the faster rides.

Xabiso sucked his thumb while Tutu held a brief press interview in Fantasyland under the watchful gaze of security guards in suits and ties.

“It’s great fun being here,” said the diminutive cleric who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent opposition to apartheid and white rule in South Africa. “We’re all children at heart.”

If more people could recapture the childlike innocence represented by Disneyland, he said in his lilting accent, “We wouldn’t have all these problems in South Africa and everywhere else. People would know we’re all part of the same family.”

Upon his arrival, Tutu was greeted by Rep. Robert K. Dornan, who described himself as “Mickey Mouse’s congressman.” Dornan (R-Garden Grove) said he had voted for economic sanctions against South Africa, despite his Republican conservatism. He told Tutu that he had cried during one of the archbishop’s speeches, in which Tutu said he would resign if bloodshed in South Africa did not stop.

Tutu, 58, wearing his characteristic dark glasses, a Greek fisherman’s cap, Reeboks and an Occidental College sweat shirt, posed happily for publicity photographs and rode down Main Street USA in a fire truck before joining his grandson on the carousel.


Next, they watched the Party Gras parade with 50-foot balloon characters. At the end of the parade, a line of conga dancers approached Tutu, his wife and grandson and drew them into a serpentine dance around a circle in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Smiling broadly, Tutu appeared to enjoy the dance.

Tutu was taking a break from a 10-day preaching tour in the Southland, where he is also raising funds for South African refugees. He spoke earlier this week at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Tutu is scheduled to speak at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Santa Ana High School.

Park officials said they were advised that Tutu likes rum and Coke, favors raisin ice cream and dislikes salads. But as they have with other VIPS, they provided the entourage a special tour guide, lunch at the Blue Bayou restaurant--which serves no alcohol--and cuts to the front of the lines.

“It didn’t seem proper to have him wait,” said Mary Anne Mang, public relations manager.

Park-goers who recognized Tutu most often used the word “wonderful” to describe their feelings toward him.

“I’ve got to shake his hand!” said Paula Monarz of North Hollywood. “People get excited about movie stars, but here’s someone who’s made a difference.”

“There he is! Desmond Tutu!” shouted a middle-aged man in a red coat, who raised his hand in a fist. “Free South Africa!”


“I’m a fan!” said Richard Mathews of San Francisco, who videotaped his 14-year-old son with the world-famous leader. “We’ve got historic film here!” he said, shaking his camera.

But some had no idea who the cleric was. A clerk at the tobacco shop, asked about Tutu, replied: “Is that a kind of cigarette? We don’t carry it.”

At one point, a toddler ran toward Tutu and the accompanying Disneyland characters, but he was more interested in the world-famous mouse and yelled “Mickey!”

“I’m peeved,” the archbishop joked about the youngster’s slight.

“But I shouldn’t be,” he said. “Mickey’s older.”

The day ended for Tutu and his entourage at 7:45 p.m. They were all given Mickey Mouse hats as they left the Magic Kingdom.

“I think all world leaders should come here and recover their childlike qualities,” Tutu said.

But what, specifically, captured this world figure’s fancy?

“We went on everything--Space Mountain, Peter Pan, Circle Vision, the train and Splash Mountain,” he said. “Splash Mountain was awful. Once was enough and I’ll never go on it again.”


VIP VISITS Some of the dignitaries who have visited Disneyland since it opened in 1955: 1955--Calif. Gov. Ronald Reagan 1955--Vice President Richard M. Nixon 1956--President Sukarno of Indonesia 1956--Chief Justice Earl Warren 1959--King Hussein of Jordan 1961--Prime Minister Nehru of India 1961--Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower 1962--Calif. Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. 1963--Astronaut John Glenn 1968--U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy 1969--Russian cosmonauts G.T. Bergeovoi and K.P. Feoktistov and families 1970--Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania 1971--Dr. Henry A. Kissinger 1976--New Zealand’s Brian Muldoon 1977--Canada’s Pierre Trudeau 1979--Fang Yi, Vice Premier of China 1979--Sidi Mohamad, Prince of Morocco 1982--Former President Jimmy Carter 1984--Princess Anne of Great Britain 1988--Vice President George Bush 1988--Calif. Gov. George Deukmejian