Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
07 October 1931 – 26 December 2021
Revelling in his humanity, in both words and actions, Tutu showed fellow South Africans and people across the world what a life lived in love looks like.
Hope is born
Born on in Klerksdorp on 07 October 1931 to Zacahriah Tutu and Aletta Mathlare, the Arch is one of 4 children.
Desmond Mpilo Tutu (fondly known as the “Arch”) was born in the small town of Klerksdorp, in the North West Province of South Africa. Second son to school headmaster, Zacahriah Zelilo Tutu and mother, Aletta Mathlare.
Though baptised as Methodist, it was through his sister Sylvia’s lead into the African Methodical Episcopal Church that the family entire family finally became Anglicans in 1943.
Friendship, Setbacks and a Change for Good
Having fallen ill with Turberculosis, Tutu struck up a longstanding friendship with Father Trevor Huddleston. It was during these years when the decision to join the priesthood was made and changed the course of Tutu’s life.
While being educated at his secondary school, Western High in the old Western Native Township, near Sophiatown, Tutu fell ill with tuberculosis. It was here that a deep friendship began between Father Trevor Huddleston, who regularly visited and brought books to read. After recovery, Tutu became a server at Huddleston’s parish church in Munsieville.
With the Apartheid regime well underway in South Africa from 1948, Tutu saw through his Matriculation Board examinations in 1950 by way of candlelit study. Tutu was accepted to study at the Witwatersrand Medical School. Unable to obtain a bursary, Tutu decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and enroll at the Bantu Normal College, outside Pretoria, to study towards a teacher’s diploma.
The Future Takes Shape
With a teaching degree in hand and the Bantu Education Act as a backdrop to the political and social climate of every Black South African, Tutu took a stand in protest due to promoted inequality and pursued more active means to support the cause.
Tutu completed his teaching diploma and taught at his old school, Madipane High in Krugersdorp in 1954. The same year that the Bantu Education Act was in effect that aimed at reducing black children to subservient work such as manual labour and menial jobs seen as suitable by the government. The intention being to indoctrinate the idea that black people were inferior to white South Africans.
Tutu obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Africa (UNISA). It was here that Robert Managliso Sobukwe, first president of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) aided him with his studies.
As wedding negotions bore fruitful results, on the 2nd of July 1955, Archbishop Tutu married Nomalizo Leah Shenxane, his future bride and brightest pupil under his father’s teachings. After their marriage, Tutu began teaching at Munsieville High School, where his father was still the headmaster. He is remembered as an inspiring teacher. Three years later, Desmond Tutu quit in protest due to promoted inequality, refusing to be part of a corrupted educational system
A Renewed Purpose
Managing studies, a family and priesthood, Tutu was awarded for his efforts through promotion and recognition.
Through much deliberation, Tutu joined the priesthood, offering himself to the Bishop of Johannesburg to become a priest. Once admitted as a sub-deacon at Krugersdorp, in 1958, he enrolled at St Peter’s Theological College in Rosettenville.
Excelling at his studies, Tutu was awarded the licensee of Theology with two distinctions. He was then ordained as a deacon in December 1960 at St Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg and took up his first curacy at St Albans Church in Benoni.
Rearing three children by 1960, Tutu was ordained as a priest and transferred to a new church in Thokoza. Tutu and his family then left to further his studies in Britain, London after having been given a bursary to study at King’s College, as well as being awarded a scholarship by the World Council of Churches (WCC).
London proved to be an exciting and rewarding experience for Tutu and his family having suffocated during Apartheid in South Africa. He completed his Honour’s and Master’s degree and graduated in 1966.
From lecturer to Anglican Chaplain to Dean, Tutu made every effort to use his platform to challenge and champion the struggles of the victims of Apartheid.
Upon returning to South Africa, Tutu taught at the Federal Theological Seminary at Alice in the Eastern Cape. Holding the positon of lecturer at the Seminary, Tutu was also appointed as the Anglican Chaplain to the University of Fort Hare. It was during his time at Alice that Tutu began making his views against apartheid known.
Due to become the Vice-Principal of the Seminary, Tutu’s mixed feelings towards the promotion saw him accepting an invitation to become a lecturer at the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, based at Roma in Lesotho.
Reverend Tutu then relocated with his family to London. Here, Tutu was appointed the Associate Director of Africa of the Theological Education Fund in London which was started in 1960 which sought to improve theological education in the developing world by the World Council of Churches.
Leslie Stradling, Bishop of Johannesburg was due to retire and in search of a successor. Though Timothy Bavin, a consistent supporter of Reverend Tutu, filled the role, Bishop Stradling invited Reverend Tutu to become his Dean.
Unrest Seeks Guidance on a Mission of Importance
Radical change was needed and felt within the church and broader context of student protest where a guiding light came in the form of Vicar General. Resulting turmoil, criticism and protest spurred Tutu’s decision to take up office at the South African Council of Churches (SACC); one of the most pertinent and fundamental institutions in the pursuit of justice and reconciliation.
Tutu returned to South Africa in 1975 to take up post as the first Black Anglican Dean of Johannesburg and the Rector of St Mary’s Cathedral Parish in Johannesburg. Here he brought about radical change, often to the displeasure of his white parishioners.
As Vicar General during the 16th of June 1976 student protest, after receiving the news of police shooting and killing of students, Tutu spent the day engaged with students and parents about the wide-scale rebellion against forced Afrikaans school language instruction and inferior education. The Soweto Parents Crisis Committee set up in the aftermath of the killings was significantly influenced by Tutu’s involvement. What followed was Tutu’s consecration as Bishop on the 11th of July 1976.
Black Consciousness leader, Steve Biko dies while in the custody of Security Police. It was during the funeral that Bishop Desmond Tutu, Mrs Leah Tutu and 71 year old Reverend William Moalusi were amongst those who were beaten by police with sjamboks (heavy leather whip).
With South Africa in turmoil following the 1976 Soweto uprising, Tutu was persuaded to take up the post of General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). It was this position that found him to become both a national and international figure.
Goals of justice, reconciliation and an end to Apartheid were priorities pursued with vigour and commitment. The SACC became an important institution in South Africa through spiritual and political life, challenging white society and government and affording assistance to victims of Apartheid.
In 1980 Bishop Desmond Tutu led a delegation of church leaders and the SACC to speak to Prime Minister PW Botha and his cabinet delegation. It was a historical moment as it was the first time any Black leader, outside the system, talked with a White Government leader. Nothing transpired out of that meeting.
Continued criticism against Apartheid saw government withdraw Tutu’s passport and accuse the SACC of receiving overseas income to provoke unrest. Challenges to be charged in open court resulted in the Government appointing the Eloff Commission of Enquiry to investigate but no evidence was found.
After 18 months without a passport, a limited ‘travel document’ was issued to Tutu and his wife that took them to America. There, he was able to educate unaware Americans about Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo.
Adding a Voice to Change
From Nobel Peace Prize to Bishop of Cape Town to Chancellor of the University of Western Cape, Tutu did not falter in advocating for he knew to be right, to be fair and to be just along with his wife, Mrs Leah Tutu who stood up for the improved working environment for domestic workers.
Elected as Patron of the United Democratic Front (UDF), one of the most important non-racial anti-apartheid organisations. His community activism was complemented by that of his wife Leah. She championed the cause for better working conditions for domestic workers in South Africa. She helped found the South African Domestic Workers Association.
Whilst in America in 1984, Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his untiring effort in calling for an end to White minority rule in South Africa. While several Black South Africans celebrated this prestigious award, the Government was silent, not even congratulating Tutu on his achievement. He became the second black South African to be listed under Nobel Laureates after Albert Luthuli.
Learning about his nomination for Bishop of Johannesburg, Tutu used his influence to urge foreign disinvestment in South Africa as well as civil disobedience, as a way to dismantle Apartheid which subjected him to harassment by the Security Police. Tutu’s appointment as the first black Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg, found his critics, mainly Whites and a few Blacks, in opposition of his election.
As the Alexandra Township in Johannesburg went up in flames in 1986, Tutu, together with Reverend Beyers Naude and Dr Boesak and other church leaders went to diffuse the situation. After having served as Bishop of Johannesburg for 18 months, Tutu took on the role of Bishop of Cape Town, becoming the first black person to lead the Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa. He was also the president of the All Africa Conference of Churches.
In 1988, Bishop Tutu was appointed as the Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape.
Following his appointment in 1989 as State President, FW De Klerk on the 2nd of February 1990 unbanned the ANC and other political parties, and announced plans to release Nelson Mandela from prison, which took place on the 11th of February. The process was not without violence.
“We will be Free!”
The Arch casts his vote in favour of a free and democratic South Africa. The catalyst to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
On the 19th April 1993, Chris Hani, leader of the South African Communist Party, was murdered by right-wingers. At Hani’s emotionally charged funeral, the “Arch” urged the crowd of around 120 000 to work peacefully together and end apartheid. He called on the mourners to chant with him: “We will be Free!”, “All of us!”, “Black and White together!”
Nelson Mandela subsequently went on to become South Africa’s first democratically elected president on the 27th of April 1994. The Arch voted for the first time to witness the fall of Apartheid regime and the birth of democratic South Africa where every citizen will be treated equally.
Following the elections in 1994, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up to bear witness to, record and in some cases, grant amnesty to perpetrators of crimes relating to human right violations. President Mandela asked the “Arch” to chair the TRC, with Dr Alex Boraine as deputy chairman. Public hearings of the Human Rights Violations Committee and the Amnesty Committee were held at a number of venues around South Africa. The first being held in East London Orient Theatre. The hearings were often harrowing and emotional, conveying the toll that apartheid took on all sides of the liberation struggle.
He retired from the Church in 1996 to focus solely on the TRC, and was later named Archbishop Emeritus. On his last address as the Archbishop of the Province of Southern Africa, he was awarded with The Order for Meritorious Service (Gold) for his outstanding service to the country.
Lending a Voice to Peace
The Arch steps out of the spotlight and into a space of solitude to focus his energy and time on lending his voice to leadership, physical health and continued peace.
When bestowing the award, President Mandela said “He is renowned for selfless commitment to the poor, the oppressed and downtrodden. With his colleagues he remained an effective voice of the people of South Africa when so many of their leaders were imprisoned, exiled, banned and restricted”. He was also acknowledged by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Carey with the Archbishop of Canterbury Award for outstanding service to the Anglican Communion. As well as bestowed with the Grand Merit Cross handed to Archbishop Tutu in November 1996 by then German President Professor Roman Herzog to mention the few.
In 1997, The “Arch” was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent successful treatment in America. Despite this ailment, he continued to work with the commission. He subsequently became patron of the South African Prostate Cancer Foundation, which was established in 2007.
On October 28, 1998 the Commission presented its report, which condemned both sides for their atrocities. The TRC has become a model for a number of similar post-conflict procedures around the world. The Desmond Tutu Peace Centre (DTPC) was co-founded by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mrs. Leah Tutu. The Centre plays a unique role in building and leveraging the legacy of Archbishop Tutu to enable peace in the world. Since Apartheid’s fall, the Arch Emeritus Tutu has campaigned for gay rights and spoken out on a wide range of subjects, among them the Israel-Palestine conflict and his opposition to the Iraq War.
He divided his time between homes in Soweto’s Orlando West and Milnerton. In 2000, he opened an office in Cape Town. In June 2000, the Cape Town-based Desmond Tutu Peace Centre was launched, which in 2003 launched an Emerging Leadership Program. Conscious that his presence in South Africa might overshadow Archbishop Emeritus Njongonkulu Ndungane, the “Arch” agreed to a two-year visiting professorship at Emory University. This took place between 1998 and 2000, and during the period he wrote a book about the TRC, No Future Without Forgiveness.
Justice Comes Together
Historic accomplishments and continued efforts for peace saw the Arch continuing his work with the Elders, the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre and justice for his friend, the Dalai Lama.
In 2007, the “Arch” joined former President Nelson Mandela; former U.S. President Jimmy Carter; retired U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan; and former Irish President Mary Robinson to form The Elders, a private initiative mobilizing the experience of senior world leaders outside of the conventional diplomatic process. He was selected to chair the group. Subsequent to this, Carter and Tutu travelled together to Darfur, Gaza and Cyprus in an effort to resolve long-standing conflicts. His historic accomplishments and his continuing efforts to promote peace in the world were formally recognized by the United States in 2009, when President Barack Obama named him to receive the nation’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The “Arch” officially retired from public life on 7 October 2010. However, he continues with his involvement with the Elders and Nobel Laureate Group and his support of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre. He did, however, step down from his positions as Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape and as a representative on the UN’s advisory committee on the prevention of genocide.
In the week leading to his 80th birthday, the Dalai Lama, who went into exile in 1959 after leading an uprising against Chinese rule, was invited by Tutu to deliver the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace lecture during the three-day celebration of Tutu’s 80th birthday in Cape Town.
By 4 October 2011, the Dalai Lama had still not been granted a visa and he therefore cancelled his trip, saying that he was not going to come to South Africa after all, as the South African government found it ‘inconvenient’ and he did not want to place any individual or the Government in an untenable position. South Africans from across the socio-political spectrum, religious leaders, academics and civil society, united in condemning the Government’s actions. In a rare show of fury, the “Arch” launched a blistering attack on the ANC and President Jacob Zuma, venting his anger at the Government’s position regarding the Dalai Lama. Tutu and the Dalai Lama did go on to write a book together nonetheless.
A Resounding Amen
Steadfast in his beliefs and the Arch did not shy away from advocating for equality and reconciliation in the name of the Rainbow Nation.
In May 2013, the Arch declared that he would no longer vote for the ANC, stating that while the party was “very good at leading us in the struggle to be free from oppression”, it had done a poor job in countering inequality, violence, and corruption in South Africa. After Mandela died in December 2013, Tutu had publicly criticised the memorials held for Mandela, stating that they had given too much prominence to the ANC and that Afrikaners had been marginalised from them, believing that Mandela himself would have been appalled by this. The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation was established in 2013 and based in Cape Town. However, notwithstanding his frail health, the “Arch” continued to be highly revered for his knowledge, views and experience, especially in reconciliation.
In 2015, to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, the “Arch” and Leah renewed their vows. He continues to criticise the South African government over corruption scandals and what he says is the loss of their moral compass. The “Arch” never stopped publicly speaking out against what he considers immoral behaviour, whether in China, Europe, or the United States. It was the “Arch” who coined the popular phrase, the ‘Rainbow Nation’ to describe the beauty in difference to be found among all the different people in South Africa. Even though the term’s popularity has waned over the years, the ideal of a united harmonious South African nation is still one that is yearned for.
Archbishop Tutu turns 90 amid week-long celebration
Celebratory messages of love and appreciation for Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu poured in from across the world for his 90th birthday on 7 October 2021.
Archbishop Tutu’s enduring message of love, impact on justice and peace, sense of fun, spirit of forgiveness and optimism, and joyfulness, generosity and wisdom – all these qualities and more were celebrated at the special 90th-birthday service at Kings College London in his honour on 5 October 2021.
A celebratory church service was held at St George’s Cathedral and attended by the Arch, Mrs Tutu, friends and family on the morning of his milestone birthday. A week’s worth of events marking Archbishop Tutu’s milestone culminated, on the eve of his birthday, with the 11th Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture, delivered this year by four global leaders. The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s highest spiritual leader; women’s and children’s rights activist Graça Machel; chair of The Elders and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson; and South Africa’s former public protector, Thuli Madonsela have each previously delivered the lecture. They explored the topic Speaking Truth to Power: No future without justice from each of their personal vantage points.
South Africa Loses One of the Great Spirits and Moral Giants of Our Age
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu passed away on the morning of 26 December 2021 in Cape Town at the age of 90.
Revelling in his humanity, in both words and actions, Tutu showed fellow South Africans and people across the world what a life lived in love looks like.
One of the world’s most respected spiritual and human rights leaders, Tutu was a living testament to faith in action, insuppressible in his opposition against the evils of racism, oppression, intolerance, and injustice not just during apartheid South Africa, but wherever in the world he saw moral wrongs, especially impacting the most vulnerable and voiceless in society.
Tutu was a healer at heart, an eternal optimist (a true “prisoner of hope”) and wry humourist. He will be remembered for his powerful words in defence of the most vulnerable among us, his infinite capacity for empathy, his quick wit, his infectious laugh, and his unfailing ability to turn toward the light even during unbearably dark times.
Go well, dearest Arch. In you, the world has lost a force of reckoning. You will be deeply missed. May we always be guided by your prophetic vision for our country and for humanity:
“God calls on us to be his partners to work for a new kind of society where people count; where people matter more than things, more than possessions; where human life is not just respected but positively revered; where people will be secure and not suffer from the fear of hunger, from ignorance, from disease; where there will be more gentleness, more caring, more sharing, more compassion, more laughter; where there is peace and not war”.
Rest in peace, lala ngoxolo, robala ka khotso, robala ka kgotso, tsamaya hantle, robala ka khotso, vha edele nga mulalo, rus in vrede, Etlela hiku rhula, otaung oa ha boHlalele.