Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and veteran of South Africa‘s struggle against white minority rule, has died at the age of 90.
Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the late 1990s and in recent years he was hospitalised on several occasions to treat infections associated with his cancer treatment.
In a statement on behalf of the Tutu family, the Office of the Archbishop said he, ‘died peacefully at the Oasis Frail Care Centre in Cape Town this morning.’ They did not give details on the cause of death.
In 1984 Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent opposition to apartheid. A decade later, he witnessed the ends of that regime and he chaired a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up to unearth atrocities committed during those dark days.
He preached against the tyranny of white minority and even after its end, never wavered in his fight for a fairer South Africa, calling the black political elite to account with as much feistiness as he had the white Afrikaners.
In his final years, he regretted that his dream of a ‘Rainbow Nation’ had not yet come true.
Announcing the news, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said it was ‘another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa’.
An uncompromising foe of apartheid in South Africa, Tutu worked tirelessly and peacefully for its downfall.
Mr Ramaphosa added: ‘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.’
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and veteran of South Africa ‘s struggle against white minority rule, has died aged 90 (Pictured in 2013)
Former South African President Nelson Mandela – after his released from Robben Island Prison in 1990, walks hand-in-hand with Desmond Tutu
Reverend Desmond Tutu is seen during an audience with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in London, England
The Dalai Lama greets Mr Tutu in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2004
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams with Tutu after meeting at Sinn Fein’s headquarters. Tutu was on a one day visit to Northern Ireland to promote peace
Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the Archbishop prior to a lunch in Cape Town, South Africa on November 10, 1988. Mother Teresa was in Cape Town to open a House of Charity in a black township
In one of his last public appearances, he hosted Prince Harry, his wife Meghan and their four-month-old son Archie at his charitable foundation in Cape Town in September 2019, calling them a ‘genuinely caring’ couple
Britain’s Prince Harry, left, with South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who waves at people during his visit to The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa Monday, Nov. 30, 2015
Desmond Tutu, in his own words
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died Sunday morning in Cape Town at age 90, was a man of strong faith and conviction, but also of words. He did not hesitate to use humour and anger to express his values and outrage.
Here are some of his most famous quotes:
– ‘Be nice to whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity.’ (New York Times, October 19, 1984)
– ‘For goodness sake, will they hear, will white people hear what we are trying to say? Please, all we are asking you to do is to recognize that we are humans, too. When you scratch us, we bleed. When you tickle us, we laugh.’ (Statement urging sanctions against South Africa, 1985)
– ‘Your President is the pits as far as blacks are concerned. He sits there like the great, big white chief of old can tell us black people that we don’t know what is good for us. The white man knows.’ (Interview with US press, reacting to Ronald Reagan’s vetoing of economic sanctions apartheid government, 1986)
– ‘At home in South Africa I have sometimes said in big meetings where you have black and white together: ‘Raise your hands!’ Then I’ve said, ‘Move your hands,’ and I’ve said, ‘Look at your hands – different colours representing different people. You are the rainbow people of God’.’ (His book ‘The Rainbow People of God’, 1994)
– ‘I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this. I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place. I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid.’ (Speech at a UN’s gay rights campaign, 2013).
– ‘I give great thanks to God that he has created a Dalai Lama. Do you really think, as some have argued, that God will be saying: ‘You know, that guy, the Dalai Lama, is not bad. What a pity he’s not a Christian’? I don’t think that is the case, because, you see, God is not a Christian.’ (Speech at Dalai Lama’s birthday, June 2, 2006)
– ‘He has, I mean, mutated into something that is quite unbelievable. He has really turned into a kind of Frankenstein for his people.’ (commenting about Robert Mugabe to Australia’s ABC TV)
– ‘One day I was in San Francisco, minding my own business, as I always do, when a lady came up gushing. Oh, she was so warm and she was greeting me and she said, ‘Hello, Archbishop Mandela!’ Sort of getting two for the price of one.’ (Speech at University of Michigan, 2008)
– ‘Don’t call me, I’ll call you.’ (Announcing retirement from public life, July 22, 2010)
– ‘Our government… says it will not support Tibetans who are being oppressed viciously by the Chinese… I am warning you, I am warning you, that we will pray as we prayed for the downfall of the apartheid government, we will pray for the downfall of a government that misrepresents us.’ (On South Africa refusing the Dalai Lama a visa, 2011)
– ‘I am ashamed to call this lickspittle bunch my government.’ (After South Africa again denied the Dalai Lama a visa, 2014).
– ‘Did he have weaknesses? Of course he did, among them his steadfast loyalty to his organisation and to some of his colleagues who ultimately let him down. He retained in his cabinet under-performing, frankly incompetent ministers. But I believe he was saintly because he inspired others powerfully.’ (At Mandela’s death, 2013)
– ‘Once a Zambian and a South African, it is said, were talking. The Zambian then boasted about their minister of naval affairs. The South African asked, ‘But you have no navy, no access to the sea. How then can you have a minister of naval affairs?’ The Zambian retorted, ‘Well, in South Africa you have a Minister of Justice, don’t you?” (Nobel lecture, 1984)
– ‘I have prepared for my death and have made it clear that I do not wish to be kept alive at all costs. I hope I am treated with compassion and allowed to pass on to the next phase of life’s journey in the manner of my choice.’ (Op-ed in The Washington Post, 2016)
On the global stage, the human rights activist spoke out across a range of topics, from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories to gay rights, climate change and assisted death – issues that cemented Tutu’s broad appeal.
‘The passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu 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,’ said President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Just five feet five inches (1.68 metres) tall and with an infectious giggle, Tutu was a moral giant who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his non-violent struggle against apartheid.
He used his high-profile role in the Anglican Church to highlight the plight of black South Africans.
Asked on his retirement as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996 if he had any regrets, Tutu said: ‘The struggle tended to make one abrasive and more than a touch self-righteous. I hope that people will forgive me any hurts I may have caused them.’
Talking and travelling tirelessly throughout the 1980s, Tutu became the face of the anti-apartheid movement abroad while many of the leaders of the rebel African National Congress (ANC), such as Nelson Mandela, were behind bars.
‘Our land is burning and bleeding and so I call on the international community to apply punitive sanctions against this government,’ he said in 1986.
Even as governments ignored the call, he helped rouse grassroots campaigns around the world that fought for an end to apartheid through economic and cultural boycotts.
Former hardline white president P.W. Botha asked Tutu in a letter in March 1988 whether he was working for the kingdom of God or for the kingdom promised by the then-outlawed and now ruling ANC.
Among his most painful tasks was delivering graveside orations for Black people who had died violently during the struggle against white domination.
‘We are tired of coming to funerals, of making speeches week after week. It is time to stop the waste of human lives,’ he once said.
Tutu said his stance on apartheid was moral rather than political.
‘It’s easier to be a Christian in South Africa than anywhere else, because the moral issues are so clear in this country,’ he once told Reuters.
In February 1990, Tutu led Nelson Mandela on to a balcony at Cape Town’s City Hall overlooking a square where the ANC talisman made his first public address after 27 years in prison.
He was at Mandela’s side four years later when he was sworn in as the country’s first black president.
‘Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour, Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of the voiceless,’ is how Mandela, who died in December 2013, described his friend.
While Mandela introduced South Africa to democracy, Tutu headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that laid bare the terrible truths of the war against white rule.
Some of the heartrending testimony moved him publicly to tears.
But Tutu was as tough on the new democracy as he was on South Africa’s apartheid rulers.
He castigated the new ruling elite for boarding the ‘gravy train’ of privilege and chided Mandela for his long public affair with Graca Machel, whom he eventually married.
In his Truth Commission report, Tutu refused to treat the excesses of the ANC in the fight against white rule any more gently than those of the apartheid government.
Even in his twilight years, he never stopped speaking his mind, condemning President Jacob Zuma over allegations of corruption surrounding a $23 million security upgrade to his home.
In 2014, he admitted he did not vote for the ANC, citing moral grounds.
‘As an old man, I am sad because I had hoped that my last days would be days of rejoicing, days of praising and commending the younger people doing the things that we hoped so very much would be the case,’ Tutu told Reuters in June 2014.
In December 2003, he rebuked his government for its support for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, despite growing criticism over his human rights record.
Tutu drew a parallel between Zimbabwe’s isolation and South Africa’s battle against apartheid.
‘We appealed for the world to intervene and interfere in South Africa’s internal affairs. We could not have defeated apartheid on our own,’ Tutu said. ‘What is sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander too.’
From left: Tutu, Nelson Mandela and former South African President Frederik W de Klerk chat on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town during the official announcement of the Nobel Peace Project in 2003
From left: Then-London Mayor Ken Livingstone, Labour MP Frank Dobson and South Africa’s High Commissioner to Britain, Lindiwe Mabuza, in Trafalgar Square in London in 2004, on the 10th anniversary of the first democratic election in South Africa
Making an elequent point about the Israellis and Palestinians making a lasting Peace as he speaks to the Peres Center for Peace January 11. Tutu had said that, ‘if South Africa could make peace then certainly Israel and the Palestinians can and will’
Timeline: The schoolteacher’s son who inspired change
1931 – Desmond Tutu is born in Klerksdorp, a town around 170 km (105 miles) to the 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 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 as 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 – State 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 right 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 since 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’.
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.
Dec. 26, 2021 – Tutu dies in Cape Town, aged 90.
He also criticised South African President Thabo Mbeki for his public questioning of the link between HIV and AIDS, saying Mbeki’s international profile had been tarnished.
A schoolteacher’s son, Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, a conservative town west of Johannesburg, on Oct. 7, 1931.
The family moved to Sophiatown in Johannesburg, one of the commercial capital’s few mixed-race areas, subsequently demolished under apartheid laws to make way for the white suburb of Triomf – ‘Triumph in Afrikaans.
Always a passionate student, Tutu first worked as a teacher. But he said he had become infuriated with the system of educating Blacks, once described by a South African prime minister as aimed at preparing them for their role in society as servants.
Tutu quit teaching in 1957 and decided to join the church, studying first at St. Peter’s Theological College in Johannesburg. He was ordained a priest in 1961 and continued his education at King’s College in London.
After four years abroad, he returned to South Africa, where his sharp intellect and charismatic preaching saw him rise through lecturing posts to become Anglican Dean of Johannesburg in 1975, which was when his activism started taking shape.
‘I realised that I had been given a platform that was not readily available to many Blacks, and most of our leaders were either now in chains or in exile. And I said: ‘Well, I’m going to use this to seek to try to articulate our aspirations and the anguishes of our people’,’ he told a reporter in 2004.
By now too prominent and globally respected to be thrust aside by the apartheid government, Tutu used his appointment as Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches in 1978 to call for sanctions against his country.
He was named the first Black Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986, becoming the head of the Anglican Church, South Africa’s fourth largest. He would retain that position until 1996.
In retirement he battled prostate cancer and largely withdrew from public life. In one of his last public appearances, he hosted Prince Harry, his wife Meghan and their four-month-old son Archie at his charitable foundation in Cape Town in September 2019, calling them a ‘genuinely caring’ couple.
Tutu married Leah in 1955. They had four children and several grandchildren, and homes in Cape Town and Soweto township near Johannesburg.
Desmond Tutu has died aged 90