Read the 2021 peace lecture speeches

The 11th Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture was delivered by 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. They explored the topic Speaking Truth to Power: No future without justice from each of their personal vantage points. You can read the full transcripts of their speeches and the Chairman and CEO of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation below:

Niclas Kjellström-Matseke, Chairman of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation:

Good evening to all of you, joining us for the 11th Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture on this auspicious day, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s 90th birthday.

In October 2021, we face a world plagued by racism, environmental disaster and climate change, poverty an epidemic of mental health issues, and hopelessness. But Archbishop Tutu has always shown us by his actions and through his words, that hope is never lost.

This may be a dark moment in history. One filled with social and economic upheaval. But it is also one filled with a light of hope. The pandemic forced a pause in the status quo and gave the world time to question the way we live our lives.

It underlined dramatically how connected we all are. Our interdependence or the ubuntu, if you wish, amongst all seven billion of us. And how dangerously unsustainable inequality is.

The acknowledgment that change must come and that it must bring with it a more equal, more compassionate future, a world filled with justice for humanity and for the earth has never been stronger or more widespread.

So I, together with my colleagues at the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, we have hope and we want to pass that on to each and every one of you.


Piyushi Kotecha, Chairman of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation:

Greetings from Cape Town, South Africa, the home of the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.

This year’s theme, “Speaking truth to power: No future without justice” is, we believe, resonant of our current times globally and nationally.

It is clear. There can be no just future if those who believe in peace and justice do not continue to speak truth to power.

The world is too often a broken place. Its very brokenness must propel us into action. We find ourselves at the juncture between two worlds: an old world led by unscrupulous political figures and self-serving economic interests, and one led by young activists who have social, environmental and women’s rights in their sight.

The courage to heal is vital.

We at the Foundation hope that the leaders you will hear from tonight will plant the seeds for our collective action. We hope that each of you will use what you hear to decide for yourself, what a just future will look like for you. With that knowledge firmly in your hands, you can take concrete steps to realise that future based on justice. Our future depends on our next steps, but what direction will those steps take? That is up to us. Each one of us.

Tonight, you’ll hear from South Africa’s former public protector, Thuli Madonsela, who speaks of how we can use Archbishop Tutu’s example to champion peace through working for truth and justice.

Mary Robinson, chair of The Elders and former president of Ireland, speaks of how vital it is for each of us who believe in the dignity and the rights of all people to face the future with determined goodwill. We need this determined goodwill – another attribute so characteristic of the Archbishop – or we will not secure a safer planet for all; that much is clear.

Women’s and children’s rights activist Graça Machel will underline the truth that without challenging patriarchy in all its forms, that just future, which we all so desperately want, is unattainable.

And the Dalai Lama will reveal a fundamental truth underlying all of this: without compassion, there is no justice and no future.

But perhaps most important is this fundamental caveat: will power listen to truth? We must resolve that it does, as too often it does not. That is why we have chosen our speakers tonight. Each one of them is a moral and ethical leader who has the skills and dexterity to navigate their part within a maelstrom of challenges.

We need many more leaders like them if we are to create inclusive and responsive societies and safeguard a planet that is a temperate home to us all. I hope that each of us in the audience takes inspiration from what they have to say, engage those who have power and authority to truly listen.

The concept of speaking truth to power has a long history harking back to ancient Greece. Although the phrase “speaking truth to power” was coined in the 1940s, as a non-violent strategy against oppression and against oppressive power, non-violent opposition to injustice is a fundamental trait of the archbishop.

It requires patience and deep courage. It requires confidence that the justice sought is true and that it is justice for everyone. We ask all to listen carefully to each speaker, and use the 11th Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture as a spark.

Question your concept of justice, and of peace. Make sure it is inclusive. Our speakers imbibe and embody the core fundamental values that the Archbishop stands for. Like him, these values are not slogans for them, but daily behaviours truly practised, via the prism of truth for justice.

In his 80s, Archbishop Tutu described the political freedom gained by South Africa as “precarious”, “at great risk”, and warned that, if the inequality gap is not addressed speedily in our country, “it could go up in flames”.

This is a warning for all of us across the globe. As Archbishop Tutu embarks upon his 90s, join us in heeding his legacy through determined action for a new, just world.

Join us in securing a future for everyone.

Welcome to the 2021 Peace Lecture!


Professor Thuli Madonsela

Participating in the delivery of the Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture on the occasion of the remarkable Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 90th birthday, is a rare and treasured privilege for me.

The lecture celebrates a giant on whose shoulders we stand as we champion peace through working for truth and justice. It is said lightning does not strike twice. But here I am participating in honouring this remarkable advocate of truth to power, for the second time in five years.

I must confess, excuse the pun, that being in the good company of the Arch’s friends and peers, His Grace, the Dalai Lama, and remarkable global leaders and elders, Mary Robinson and Mama Graça Machel, adds to the extraordinariness of this moment for me.

As we approach the 90th birthday of our peace icon, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, we look back with awe at the giant footprints he has made in standing up for truth and justice throughout his life. We note with gratitude that it has been in the advancement of peace through the pursuit of justice and integrity, particularly in state affairs, by speaking truth to power and facing the backlash with equanimity.

As an educated man in a world where the majority were not, and as a black man with a voice through his spiritual pursuits, Archbishop Desmond Tutu answered the call to discharge the burden of privilege by speaking out for justice and freedom for all. Despite the perils of speaking truth to power, he chose to ignite and engage in uncomfortable conversations. Even after formal apartheid fell and to the chagrin of his contemporaries that were now in government, he relentlessly lent his voice to just causes.

Some of the uncomfortable truths that he dealt with are those relating to corruption and consumptive excesses of the elites in the face of persistent hunger and inequality. One of his famous pronouncements that did not go well with some of his peers was, I quote, “If I go to heaven and find a homophobic God, I will tell him I prefer the other place”, close quote. This was a quintessential demonstration of his notion of justice as justice for all and not just us.

As we celebrate this giant crusader for truth, justice and peace, we need to appreciate that inequality and poverty are not only enduring in some parts of the world, including our corner, the problem is worsening and posing a major threat to peace. It is, as Letta Mbulu says in her song, “Not Yet Uhuru”, for some, and because of our interconnectedness, for all of us. This is because as long as there is injustice somewhere, that cannot be sustainable peace anywhere.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has always known that injustice and peace cannot coexist, that poverty is an injustice and so is unequal treatment of others in a manner that diminishes their humanity just because they are different in terms of colour, religion, gender and other human attributes.

He also understood and still understands the uncomfortable truth that human rights promises in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and national constitutions are promises no less than any other.

He understood that a broken promise is a dishonoured debt and that this truism applies to broken human rights promises on account of which many continue to languish in extreme poverty and inequality.

In South Africa one of the uncomfortable truths is that the social justice promised in the Constitution, where it says in its preamble the people adopt it for the purpose of healing the divisions of the past and establishing a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights, remains unrealised.

You will agree with me that delivering on this promise remains a distant dream, for the majority that remains shackled in poverty. You must also agree that the looting, ineptitude and corruption in state affairs, including state capture, present a major impediment to delivery of this social justice commitment.

A glimmer of hope flickers on the horizon, though, in that as we reflect on the iconic legacy of the Arch, we also reflect on the lessons we have learnt since we were confronted by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic about 18 months ago.

Key amongst those lessons is the truth that those left behind are losing patience. They are no longer prepared to languish in poverty.

We also learnt that economies where the Gini coefficient is lower, have been more resilient and are rebounding faster. We have also learnt that the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs could be leveraged to do better, provided we engage in social impact conscious policy design while being mindful of the environment and improving good governance on all fronts, including breaking with corruption, ineptitude and impunity.

The matters of purpose-driven, people-centric governance and eschewing ineptitude, discrimination, corruption, impunity and planet degradation are the uncomfortable truths that Arch has confronted throughout his life.

I believe the best way to pay our debt of gratitude to him and his contemporaries, such as Nelson Mandela and Helen Suzman, is to use the occasion of his 90th birthday to choose to change course and pursue pathways that will expeditiously yield sustainable development for all in a world where democracy works for all.

It is our turn to stand up for truth and justice, particularly social justice, as an investment in peace.


Mary Robinson:

Dear Arch, dear friends. It’s a privilege and a delight to join you for this joyous event marking your 90th birthday and a decade of inspirational Peace Lectures.

I’m only sorry that we cannot be together in person in Cape Town. But even from thousands of miles away in Dublin, I feel myself energised by the thought of your presence in my mind’s eye, and I can even hear your infectious laughter in my ear.

In a world where we have become accustomed to instant communication and gratification, the experience of the pandemic has made us cherish opportunities when they do come and appreciate the virtues of patience and anticipation.

These are, of course, qualities that you displayed par excellence in the long and grinding struggle against apartheid. In those dark days, it could have been all too easy at times to be overwhelmed by pessimism or despair.

But no one could ever accuse you of that.

Today, those of us who believe in the dignity and rights of all human beings and in the imperative of global justice, have a duty to face the future with determined goodwill. We should reassert our belief in the shared capacity of our brothers and sisters worldwide to act for the common good.

We should be in no doubt that the challenge of bequeathing a peaceful and equitable world to our children and grandchildren has been made considerably harder by COVID-19.

The pandemic has shone a harsh light on existing inequalities and injustices and in many cases exacerbated the damage wrought to the social fabric and the life chances and health of the most vulnerable in our societies.

In this regard, it’s now essential that leaders learn from their mistakes and heed the recommendations of the expert Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response co-chaired by my sister and fellow member of The Elders, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Only properly financed, integrated and organised health systems will be able to withstand the future pandemics and health emergencies that will assuredly come. Perhaps the most important lesson of COVID-19 is that a pandemic of this magnitude is never just a health crisis. It’s also inevitably, and inextricably, a human rights crisis, an economic crisis and a justice crisis.

Precisely the same logic applies to another existential crisis facing humanity, that of our changing climate. The latest assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasises the scale of the challenge, but also offers a pathway to progress.

The opportunity to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius is slim, but still scientifically possible. The exigency of this situation must not lead us to despair. Rather, it should propel us into action. We know that humanity can only thrive when all states work together with common purpose.

In 2021, it’s essential that this spirit drives climate ambition at the international level, especially at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November and the COP on the Convention on Biological Diversity in China.

As matters currently stand, however, the rich world failures in tackling COVID-19 have increased the trust deficit between the global north and south. We need a change of mindset in politics, finance, business and civil society, one that enables us to keep temperature rises at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius whilst honouring the climate finance promises made to developing countries.

Put simply, this is a matter of climate justice.

Those who have contributed the least to global warming are suffering the direst consequences, while the rich polluters are still failing to take seriously their responsibilities at a political and financial level. Our planet and its peoples can have no future without justice. Our leaders are in the dark, and if they don’t rise to the challenge and deliver a climate emergency pact in Glasgow, the verdict from civil society and from future generations will be rightly damning.

The blunt truth is that we have wasted too much time in these six years since the Paris Agreement in 2015. The policies we need to cut emissions, including an end to fossil fuel extraction, production and subsidies, a meaningful carbon price and investment in renewable energies have been fitful, inconsistent and uncoordinated. Glasgow could be the moment where the winds of change blow away the fossil fuel era. Pledges made there can underline the commitment of all major economies, to put an end date on coal whilst ensuring a just transition to protect the rights, dignity and livelihoods of those affected.

Today, we’re at a critical tipping point. The frontlines of the climate crisis are moving ever closer to the prosperous nations of the global north, who for too long have thought that extreme weather events such as droughts, wildfires, hurricanes and floods were only things that affected people down there rather than on their own doorstep.

I can well understand if an African audience rolls its eyes at the expression of grave concerns by politicians in Europe and North America, who suddenly talk about climate change becoming real, when you have had to endure its ravages for years to apparent blithe indifference. But while some humility and recognition of the scale of the climate emergency from the rich world is definitely long overdue, now is the moment for concerted collective action.

All countries need to ratchet up their near-term emissions reduction targets, even though we’re still waiting for all major emitters to do so. Rich states must keep their promise of supporting vulnerable countries to be able to take the action they need to on climate. This is a key part of the bargain on which multilateral consensus depends Yet their $100 billion a year climate finance goal is still not being met.

Rich countries must prepare trust by showing how they will increase their climate finance levels, including a much greater share for adaptation to deliver this goal ahead of Glasgow. In recent years, some of the fiercest and most passionate voices for climate justice and for a more equitable world have come from young people.

Indeed, at last year’s 10th Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture, I had the honour of introducing a remarkable young woman who has captured the world’s imagination and inspired others to climate action. Vanessa Nakate of Uganda spoke passionately about her vision for the future. I’m so inspired by all the young climate activists who are also challenging patriarchal structures and attitudes and working across traditional silos to advance gender equality and climate justice.

I share their view that these goals cannot be separated from wider struggles to end other forms of discrimination, exclusion and injustice. They’ve shown that feminist leadership matters for both women and men in promoting gender equality, solidarity and a rights-based approach to policy change.

In the current and future struggles, I know that they will have no greater champion than Arch himself, whose moral force endures and cascades down the generations.

Many years ago, I was at a gathering of social activists in New York with Arch when he was interviewed by a rather stern young female journalist who almost chastised him as to why he was always so optimistic in the face of daunting global challenges and injustice. “Oh, no, dearie,” he replied in his inimitable way. “I’m not an optimist. I’m a prisoner of hope.”

Today, I’m proud to call myself a fellow convict, and his words recall those of another great clergyman who really was imprisoned for his beliefs: John Bunyan. In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyon wrote that, and I quote, “There are two types of knowledge. The first is alone in its bare speculation of things. And the second is accompanied by the grace of faith and love.”

Knowledge is essential in navigating our collective path through the challenges that lie ahead. Respect for scientific facts, the rule of law and objective truth desperately needs to be reasserted by all in positions of authority. But equally important are those human qualities of grace, faith and love so wonderfully embodied by Arch.

What finer 90th birthday present could we give him than a commitment to put them at the centre of our lives from here on in.

Happy birthday, dear friend.

May we go in peace together.


Graca Machel:

Greetings to all and a very, very happy birthday to you, Arch. You know, I love you so, so much, and I am incredibly honoured to join your celebrations here today. I add my voice to my fellow distinguished speakers to pay tribute to the life and legacy of my dear, dear brother, Archbishop Tutu, and the principles of justice, equality and freedom, that are the hallmark of his existence. I’ve been asked to “speak truth to power” around the themes of justice and peace.

However, I will ask for your forgiveness today and twist expectations slightly.

My heart is heavy and I speak to you from a place of anguish as I bear witness to the fate of adolescents and young women in South Africa – indeed, across the globe.

So I speak to us here today, as we have an “everyday people” issue to resolve as a human family. And I will warn you that I come with more questions than answers, in the spirit of opening a debate amongst us.

And as I reflect on the rich legacy Arch gifts to us, I am so grateful for his presence on this earth and his immeasurable contributions to humanity. But I’m also filled with the sense of unsettled urgency, as there is still so much work to be done to bring us closer to a world of justice and peace that he has fought for, for so long.

I ask each and every one of us: how can we break the vicious cycle of untold and unspeakable pain that visit women and children on a daily basis?

While the days of the brutal apartheid regime are thankfully behind us, we are still a nation at war with ourselves. We are plagued by deeply entrenched and festering wounds. And perhaps one of the most visible manifestations of this woundedness is our violent, unequal society.

Arch has himself said, and I quote, “Children are a wonderful gift. They have an extraordinary capacity to see into the heart of things and to expose sham and humbug for what they are.” Unquote. And he is absolutely right. Our precious children are under siege in South Africa and are exposing our glaring failures to them. It is the fate of young women in South Africa and around the globe that I would like to give voice and flesh to today.

Here in South Africa, in schools and in their homes, where they’re supposed to find sanctuary and be the safest, adolescent girls of all ages are victims of unspeakable violence. They suffer from bullying and sexual violence at the hands of their male family members and from fellow students and teachers.

New alarming figures from South Africa’s most populous province, Gauteng Province’s Department of Health, show that more than 23,000 girls aged under 18 gave birth between April 2020 and March 2021 – and of which 934 were aged between 10 and 14.

Let me repeat that: nearly 1000 children have given birth to other children in the past year. The number of children born to teen mothers in Gauteng Province alone has jumped to 60% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why is there not an outcry over what is, in essence, a statutory rape epidemic in this country? And it was further revealed that nearly 3,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 19 have had to take the heart-wrenching and life-altering decision to terminate their pregnancies. And girls in the metropolis of Johannesburg are not alone. Nearly 13,500 girls in the Western Cape became pregnant in the last year, the majority of them aged between 15 and 19.

There are precious lives behind these cold numbers. These are the beautiful faces, brilliant minds and vibrant voices of our daughters, nieces, sisters whose childhood and innocence we have left unprotected. And these shocking statistics on teenage pregnancy do not even paint an accurate, nor comprehensive picture of our shameful disregard for the young people we claim to love and cherish.

There are far too many wolves in sheep’s clothes masquerading as predators and entire families harbouring terrorists in their homes. So I call on us to be more honest and nuanced in analysis of what is really going on. We need higher quality data and disaggregated reporting, which captures pregnancy classifications under categories including statutory rape, intimidation, coercion, intrafamily sexual abuse and incest.

The data must expose these atrocities and guide the proper corrective measures to bring an end to the violence against girls and women faced on a daily basis. And as many adolescent girls mature into adulthood, often their fate is no less hospitable.

Women are under attack daily in South Africa: A woman dies at the hands of her intimate partner every eight hours. This translates into three women being killed by their loved ones every single day. And it is reported that more women are killed by her current or former partner here, than in any other country in the world.

Why has, what is so grotesquely abnormal, become normalised to us?

In this country, the land of Tutu and Madiba’s birth, and on this continent, the home of greats such as Wangari Mathai and Gertrude Mongella, it is an affront to the nobility of our ancestors to allow our youngest generations to suffer in the ways they do.

What is required for us to build safer, more harmonious societies? Ones where we have healthy relationships with those we love?

How do we ensure those who are custodians of safety and security actually treasure and cherish those they are meant to protect and adore?

The value of a child’s life, their protection and well-being need to be our paramount concern as a society. Peace and justice has to start and reside in the hearts of each one of us, in the hearts of our families and in the hearts of our communities.

We are a society at war with itself. We adults are wounded. We are unhealed individuals who come together to form families and communities which are then fractured and broken as well. And we are passing on our trauma to our next generation.

Violence is the breastmilk we are feeding our young, our children are growing up experiencing hostility, exploitation and abuse on a daily basis. If not directly, first-hand, they are exposed to this trauma second-hand in their social media feeds and in the news headlines as well. And so it should come as no surprise that having being socialised in a culture of violence, a natural tendency will be to operate in the world from a place of aggression, physical combativeness and hopelessness.

When I look into the eyes of Arch, I see so much love and compassion and I ask, why don’t we draw from his life a source of wisdom, moral authority and the deep empathy needed to change this trajectory?

Don’t we need a therapy of the soul to undertake the monumental task of transformation and untangle ourselves from the wicked webs of our trauma and toxic patriarchy?

We as adults have to change. We have constitutions, courts, progressive policies and legislation in place to protect women and children, but our failure is one of a human nature.

We have to change our mindsets, our behaviours, our value system. We must reinvent our relationships and reengineer the way we relate in our families, in our schools, in our workplaces, with the spirit of ubuntu that Arch taught us and exudes with every fibre of his being.

A future of justice will only be possible when we see and treat each other with dignity, with reverence for our physical and mental health, and the compassion that comes from recognising and respecting the humanity in one another.

So on his birthday, as we honour our cherished icon, who stands for all that is right and just, I urge you – all of us – not to spare the strength nor courage required to collectively soul search and reengineer our relationships into ones of respect and equity.

Let us move us closer to a nation our beloved Archbishop Tutu would be proud to call his own and a world of equality, peace and justice.

Thank you.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

My dear respected elder brother in the spiritual field, I have deep admiration and respect for you, Bishop Tutu. So, I want to express my greetings to you on your 90th birthday.

We religious people should follow people like Bishop Tutu who live in complete peace. We joke with each other about what we believe: I believe in life after life but not in a Creator, Bishop Tutu believes in a Creator.

So sometimes he teases me that he’s ready to go to heaven, but I may go to a different place.

Anyway, you see, we are both totally dedicated to finding peace of mind, and through peace of mind, we try our best to bring about peace in the world.

So on this special day, your 90th birthday, I will offer special prayers and greetings.

My elder spiritual brother, please live long. We need you to set the world a good example.

As far as compassion is concerned, while we are in our mother’s womb and after birth, her warm-heartedness, her compassion, and her loving kindness, are the key factors in our survival. Our life starts that way.

Keeping alive our experience of our mother’s loving kindness when we were young is one of the key factors for our survival and our being able to live a happy life. Our life begins that way, and the rest of our life we should keep a more compassionate mind with loving kindness.

These days some scientists say the more peaceful our mind is, the more compassionate our mind is, the physically healthier we’ll be.

If we simply have loving kindness here in our hearts, automatically our face will smile more. If we have suspicion and hatred in our hearts, even when someone smiles at us we’ll only be able to show an artificial smile in return.

As far as compassion’s benefits are concerned, we are not talking about the next life or going to heaven, but in our day to day lives we really need a more compassionate mind.

Thank you.