“From the pavements of resistance in South Africa to the pulpits of the world’s great cathedrals and places of worship, and the prestigious setting of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Arch distinguished himself as a non-sectarian, inclusive champion of universal human rights.”
South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist for racial justice and LGBT rights and retired Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, died on Sunday at the age of 90. His demise was confirmed by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s death on Sunday “is another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa,” Ramaphosa said in a statement.
Tutu had been hospitalized several times since 2015, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997. In recent years he and his wife, Leah, lived in a retirement community outside Cape Town.
On Boxing Day, Tutu breathed his last at the Oasis Frail Care Centre in Cape Town.
Who was Desmond Tutu?
Born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal, Emeritus Desmond Tutu was a contemporary of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
The son of a teacher and a domestic servant, Tutu completed his primary education at Johannesburg Bantu High School. Later, he trained first as a teacher at Pretoria Bantu Normal College and he graduated from the University of South Africa in 1954, according to the official website of Noble Prize.
After serving as a high school teacher for three years, he started pursuing higher education in theology. He was ordained as a priest in 1960.
In the following years, he travelled between England and South Africa as a cleric and educationist and broadened his knowledge of theology. In 1975, he became the first black to be appointed Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg. In 1978, he became the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches.
Tutu was an advocate for a “democratic and just society without racial divisions” and throughout his life, his principles have been based around equal civil rights, an equal system of education, the abolition of South Africa’s passport laws and so on.
Archbishop of Cape Town
Following the retirement of Philip Russel as the Archbishop of Cape Town in February 1986, the Black Solidarity Group charted an agenda to get Tutu as the next Archibishop.
Tutu, who secured a two-thirds majority, and became the first black man to be the Archibishop of Cape Town. However, his ascend to the post was not well received by many, and in protest, white Anglicans left the church.
Work and Noble Peace Prize
The Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 highlighted his stature as one of the world’s most effective champions for human rights, a responsibility he took seriously for the rest of his life.
Throughout the 1980s — when South Africa was gripped by anti-apartheid violence and a state of emergency giving police and the military sweeping powers — Tutu was one of the most prominent Blacks able to speak out against abuses.
Tutu had unconditional support for leaders in the likes of Nelson Mandela and always kept his distance from the African National Congress (ANC), and refused to back its arm struggle.
He was also vocal about homophobic legislation in Uganda and supported assisted dying.
When Nelson Masden became the President of a free South Africa, following the nation’s first free election in 1994, he had asked Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC is often termed as the “climax of Tutu’s career” and the controversial Commission looked into the apartheid-era human rights abuses.
(with inputs from agencies)