President Cyril Ramaphosa expresses, on behalf of all South Africans, his profound sadness at the passing today, Sunday 26 December 2021, of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu.
Archbishop Tutu, the last surviving South African laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, passed away in Cape Town at the age of 90.
President Ramaphosa expresses his heartfelt condolences to Mam Leah Tutu, the Tutu family, the board and staff of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, the Elders and Nobel Laureate Group, and the friends, comrades and associates nationally and globally of the iconic spiritual leader, anti-apartheid activist and global human rights campaigner.
President Ramaphosa said: “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.
“Desmond Tutu was 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.
“As Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission he articulated the universal outrage at the ravages of apartheid and touchingly and profoundly demonstrated the depth of meaning of ubuntu, reconciliation and forgiveness.
“He placed his extensive academic achievements at the service of our struggle and at the service of the cause for social and economic justice the world over.
“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.
“In his richly inspiring yet challenging life, Desmond Tutu overcame tuberculosis, the brutality of the apartheid security forces and the intransigence of successive apartheid regimes. Neither Casspirs, teargas nor security agents could intimidate him or deter him from his steadfast belief in our liberation.
“He remained true to his convictions during our democratic dispensation and maintained his vigour and vigilance as he held leadership and the burgeoning institutions of our democracy to account in his inimitable, inescapable and always fortifying way.
“We share this moment of deep loss with Mam Leah Tutu, the Archbishop’s soulmate and source of strength and insight, who has made a monumental contribution in her own right to our freedom and to the development of our democracy.
“We pray that Archbishop Tutu’s soul will rest in peace but that his spirit will stand sentry over the future of our nation.”
ISSUED BY MINISTER IN THE PRESIDENCY MONDLI GUNGUBELE
Tutu was born of mixed Xhosa and Motswana heritage to a poor family in Klerksdorp, South Africa. Entering adulthood, he trained as a teacher and married Nomalizo Leah Tutu, with whom he had several children. In 1960, he was ordained as an Anglican priest and in 1962 moved to the United Kingdom to study theology at King’s College London.
In 1966 he returned to southern Africa, teaching at the Federal Theological Seminary and then the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. In 1972, he became the Theological Education Fund’s director for Africa, a position based in London but necessitating regular tours of the African continent.
Back in southern Africa in 1975, he served first as dean of St Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg and then as Bishop of Lesotho; from 1978 to 1985 he was general-secretary of the South African Council of Churches.
Although warning the National Party government that anger at apartheid would lead to racial violence, as an activist he stressed non-violent protest and foreign economic pressure to bring about universal suffrage.
In 1985, Tutu became Bishop of Johannesburg and in 1986 the Archbishop of Cape Town, the most senior position in southern Africa’s Anglican hierarchy. In this position he emphasised a consensus-building model of leadership and oversaw the introduction of female priests.
Also in 1986, he became president of the All Africa Conference of Churches, resulting in further tours of the continent. After President F. W. de Klerk released the anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the pair led negotiations to end apartheid and introduce multi-racial democracy, Tutu assisted as a mediator between rival black factions.
After the 1994 general election resulted in a coalition government headed by Mandela, the latter selected Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses committed by both pro and anti-apartheid groups.
Since apartheid’s fall, Tutu has campaigned for gay rights and spoken out on a wide range of subjects, among them the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, his opposition to the Iraq War, and his criticism of South African presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. In 2010, he retired from public life.
Tutu polarised opinion as he rose to notability in the 1970s. White conservatives who supported apartheid despised him, while many white liberals regarded him as too radical; many black radicals accused him of being too moderate and focused on cultivating white goodwill, while Marxist–Leninists criticised his anti-communist stance.
He was widely popular among South Africa’s black majority, and was internationally praised for his anti-apartheid activism, receiving a range of awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize. He has also compiled several books of his speeches and sermons.