Anti-apartheid hero Desmond Tutu passes away


Former US President Barack Obama has joined the tributes being paid to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has died aged 90.

Mr Obama described the churchman as “a mentor, friend and moral compass”.

A contemporary of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu was one of the driving forces behind the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he had helped bequeath “a liberated South Africa”.


One of the country’s best known figures at home and abroad, Archbishop Tutu was awarded the Nobel prize in 1984 for his role in the struggle to abolish the apartheid system enforced by the white minority government against the black majority in South Africa from 1948 until 1991.

Church officials in South Africa say a week of tributes is being organised. The plans include two days of lying in state to allow the public to pay their respects as well as a requiem mass, local media report.

Mr Obama said: “Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere.”

“He never lost his impish sense of humour and willingness to find humanity in his adversaries, and Michelle and I will miss him dearly.”


President Ramaphosa said he was “an iconic spiritual leader, anti-apartheid activist and global human rights campaigner”.

He described him as “a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead”.

“A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world.”

In a message of condolence, Queen Elizabeth II said she remembered with fondness her meetings with him, and his great warmth and humour.

“Archbishop Tutu’s loss will be felt by the people of South Africa and by so many people in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and across the Commonwealth, where he was held in such high affection and esteem.”

The Nelson Mandela Foundation was among those paying tributes, saying Tutu’s “contributions to struggles against injustice, locally and globally, are matched only by the depth of his thinking about the making of liberatory futures for human societies”.

“He was an extraordinary human being. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd.”

The Vatican said in a statement that Pope Francis offered “heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones”.

“Mindful of his service to the gospel through the promotion of racial equality and reconciliation in his native South Africa, his holiness commends his soul to the loving mercy of almighty God.”

When democracy arrived, Tutu used his moral authority to oversee the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that sought to expose the crimes of the white-minority government. Later he turned that same fierce gaze on the failings, in government, of South Africa’s former liberation movement, the ANC.

Here is a timeline of Tutu’s life:

1931: Tutu is born in Klerksdorp, a town around 170km (105 miles) west of Johannesburg.

1943: Tutu’s Methodist family joins the Anglican Church.

1947: Tutu falls ill with tuberculosis while studying at a secondary school near Sophiatown, Johannesburg. He befriends a priest and serves in his church after recovering from illness.

1948: The white National Party launches apartheid in the run-up to 1948 national elections. It wins popular support among white voters who want to maintain their dominance over the Black majority.

1955: Tutu marries Nomalizo Leah Shenxane and begins teaching at a high school in Johannesburg where his father is the headmaster.

1958: Tutu quits the school, refusing to be part of a teaching system that promotes inequality against Black students. He joins the priesthood.

1962: Tutu moves to Britain to study theology at King’s College London.

1966: Tutu moves back to South Africa and starts teaching theology at a seminary in the Eastern Cape. He also begins making his views against apartheid known.

1975: Tutu becomes the first Black Anglican dean of Johannesburg.

1980: As general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, Tutu leads a delegation of church leaders to meet Prime Minister PW Botha, urging him to end apartheid. Although nothing comes of the meeting, it is a historical moment where a Black leader confronts a senior white government official. The government confiscates Tutu’s passport.

1984: Tutu is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring about the end of white minority rule.

1985: Tutu becomes the first Black bishop of Johannesburg. He publicly endorses an economic boycott of South Africa and civil disobedience as a way to dismantle apartheid.

1986: Tutu becomes the first Black person appointed bishop of Cape Town and head of the Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa. With other church leaders, he mediates conflicts between Black protesters and government security forces.

1990: President FW de Klerk unbans the African National Congress (ANC) and announces plans to release Nelson Mandela from prison.

1991: Apartheid laws and racist restrictions are repealed and power-sharing talks start between the state and 16 anti-apartheid groups.

1994: After Mandela sweeps to power at the helm of the ANC in the country’s first democratic elections, Tutu coins the term “Rainbow Nation” to describe the coming together of various races in post-apartheid South Africa.

1994: Mandela asks Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was set up to listen to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to perpetrators of human rights violations under apartheid.

1996: Tutu retires from the church to focus solely on the commission. He continues his activism, advocating for equality and reconciliation and is later named Archbishop Emeritus.

1997: Tutu is diagnosed with prostate cancer. He has been hospitalised to treat recurring infections.

2011: The Dalai Lama inaugurates the annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture but does so via satellite link after the South African government denies the Tibetan spiritual leader a visa to attend.

2013: Tutu makes outspoken comments about the ANC. He says he will no longer vote for the party because it had done a bad job addressing inequality, violence and corruption.

2013: Dubbed “the moral compass of the nation”, Tutu declares his support for gay rights, saying he would never “worship a God who is homophobic”.

October 7, 2021: A frail-looking Tutu is wheeled into his former parish at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, which used to be a safe haven for anti-apartheid activists, for a special thanksgiving service marking his 90th birthday.

December  26, 2021: Tutu dies in Cape Town, aged 90.

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