NELSON Mandela once said Archbishop Desmond Tutu “will always be the voice of the voiceless”.
The man who gained global fame for his major role in the movement to end the brutal apartheid system in South Africa died yesterday aged 90.
Political and religious leaders worldwide united to praise the “moral giant”, who died just over a month after the nation’s last president under apartheid, FW de Klerk.
The Queen said the whole Royal Family were “deeply saddened” by the news and called Tutu a “man who tirelessly championed human rights in South Africa and across the world.”
PM Boris Johnson hailed him as a “critical figure” in the fight against apartheid, while Sir Keir Starmer said he was a “tower of a man” who inspired generations.
Barack Obama uploaded a moving photo of the pair embracing and captioned it: “He was a mentor, a friend, and a moral compass for me and so many others.
"A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said he was a “prophet and priest, a man of words and action” who brought hope to the world, and the Dalai Lama hailed him a “true humanitarian”.
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Alongside Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu was one of the leading figures in the battle to bring down the racist apartheid system which had been in place since 1948.
He was a towering figure in world history — but stood just 5ft 4in tall. The smiling Archbishop, affectionately known as “The Arch” by many South Africans, was rising through the Anglican church’s ranks in South Africa just as the battle against apartheid was heating up.
Under the system, black South Africans were banned from voting, restricted to living in certain areas and barred from marrying or being educated with whites. During the 1970s and 1980s many political leaders in the anti-apartheid African National Congress party, or ANC — including Mandela — were imprisoned on the notorious Robben Island.
But through this dark period, Archbishop Tutu kept the flame of anti racism alive from the pulpit. Known as South Africa’s conscience, he preached the need for equality and tolerance in a country torn apart by prejudice and hate.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his fearless campaigning and in 1986 he became the first black Archbishop of Cape Town. In the years that followed, apartheid crumbled, Mandela was freed and a new South Africa was born — a “rainbow nation” where all races had the same rights.
When Archbishop Tutu voted in South Africa’s first free elections in 1994, aged 62, he was so delighted he shouted “Wow, yippee!” and later described casting his ballot as being “like falling in love”.
I remember with fondness my meetings with him and his great warmth and humour.
His love of life and infectious humour made him an instant friend to those who met him.
When he met Prince Harry, Meghan and their baby Archie in September 2019 during their African tour he planted a kiss on the four-month-old’s head.
Holding back tears months later in ITV documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, Megan said: “I think Archie will look back at that in so many years and understand that right at the beginning of his life he was fortunate enough to have this moment with one of the best and most impactful leaders of our times. It’s really special.”
As news of the Archbishop’s death broke, tributes flooded in from around the world. The Queen said: “I remember with fondness my 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.”
Boris Johnson said: “He was a critical figure in the fight against apartheid and in the struggle to create a new South Africa, and will be remembered for his spiritual leadership and irrepressible good humour.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury said he “embodied the hope and joy that were the foundations of his life”, while the Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell described him as a “giant”, adding that “the world itself feels a little smaller without him”. Sir Keir Starmer added: “Desmond Tutu was a tower of a man, and a leader of moral activism. He dedicated his life to tackling injustice and standing up for the oppressed.
“His impact on the world crosses borders and echoes through generations. May he rest in peace.”
Besides political and religious figures, many other famous names paid their respects, including Piers Morgan, who described Tutu as a “magnificently charismatic and heroic figure” and repeated one of his famous quotes: ‘‘If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends, you talk to your enemies.”
Strictly Come Dancing stars Oti Mabuse and her sister Motsi, who grew up in South Africa, tweeted that it was a “major loss” for the country. At the time of his former adversary FW de Klerk’s death last month, Tutu wrote: “The former President occupied an historic but difficult space in South Africa.”
While the cause of Tutu’s death remains unknown, he had battled prostate cancer for more than two decades and in recent years had been hospitalised several times. He died “peacefully” at the Oasis Frail Care centre in Cape Town.
Announcing his death, the South African president Cyril Ramaphosa described his passing as “another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa”.
Notoriously outspoken, Tutu was an advocate for gay and lesbian rights — clashing with his own church, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
Rather go to hell than to a homophobic heaven.
In 1996 he lobbied for South Africa’s constitution to include a non-discrimination clause that includes sexual orientation alongside race and other characteristics. A decade later, South Africa became the sixth country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage.
In 2013 he made global headlines, in typical Tutu style, for saying he would “rather go to hell than to a homophobic heaven”. Even so, in 2015 when his lesbian daughter Mpho Tutu married a woman, she had to give up her position as an ordained priest. Tutu defiantly gave the newlywed couple a blessing anyway.
In recent years he lobbied for Palestinian statehood and called out corruption in the ruling ANC party. He didn’t even spare his close friend, Nelson Mandela. In 1994 Tutu criticised him over the ANC’s “gravy train mentality”.
Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, a farming town 100 miles from Johannesburg, the son of a headteacher and a domestic servant. A bright and curious child, he had a passion for reading.
He trained first as a teacher before becoming an Anglican priest in 1960. He served as Bishop of Lesotho from 1976 to 1978, then became Bishop of Johannesburg in 1985, and was appointed the first black Archbishop of Cape Town one year later.
He never rested on his laurels and used his high profile role to speak out against the oppression of black people in his country.
After years of non-violent protests, the racist apartheid system was ended through a series of negotiations between 1990 and 1993.
In 1994 Mandela became South Africa’s first black president and appointed Tutu to oversee the Truth And Reconciliation Commission, a state investigation unit which looked into crimes committed by both whites and blacks during the apartheid era.
By the late 1990s, Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer and began to spend more time with his wife Nomalizo, a former activist, and mother to their four children.
Despite his illness he remained a prominent figure worldwide and never stopped fighting for human rights. In 2013 his criticism of the ANC led to him initially being denied an invitation to the state funeral of Nelson Mandela, the party’s late leader and his longtime friend.
But Tutu’s rumoured absence provoked a public outcry and the South African government responded by saying he was an “important man” who was on the list.
In 2015 Tutu launched an environmental petition urging world leaders to use renewable energies within 35 years, and described climate change as “one of the greatest moral challenges of our time”.
Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour, Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of the voiceless.
He also argued in favour of assisted dying and bravely spoke out against an oppressive anti-gay law in Uganda, a largely conservative, Christian country where homosexual sex is punishable by life imprisonment.
In his later years he spoke of his sorrow that South Africa had not united in the way he had dreamed.
As Nelson Mandela once described his friend: “Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour, Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of the voiceless.” Tutu may no longer be with us, but his legacy — and his smile — will live on.
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