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Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Icon, Dies at 90

Desmond M. Tutu - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2009

Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize-winner and South African anti-apartheid and human rights activist, died on Sunday, after prolonged illness, according to a Reuters report. He was 90.


“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.

One of the most prominent opponents of South Africa’s apartheid system of racial segregation and white supremacy, Tutu was born on October 7, 1931. He trained as a teacher and was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1960. Tutu went on to serve as an educator as well as on the executive board of the South African Council of Churches.

In 1985, he was declared the bishop of Johannesburg, and the Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986. Under his reign, he oversaw the introduction of female priests, campaigned for gay rights, voiced his stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his anti-Iraq war sentiments, and more.

Proposing the idea of a “Rainbow Nation” for South Africa, he regretted that it never came true, according to the report. The 1980s proved to be a crucial time for Tutu, as he became the face of the anti-apartheid movement abroad, while Mandela and several other rebel leaders were serving a prison term.

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. “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, had once described his friend.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997. He publicly revealed his diagnosis in a bid to encourage other men to get tested as well, according to his biography book, Desmond Tutu: A Biography, by Steven D Gish.

Multiple journalists and world leaders across the world, paid their tributes to the man who was regarded as South Africa’s moral compass.

Nobel Prize-winner journalist Maria Ressa quoted Tutu, and tweeted, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Desmond Tutu #RIP

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter, “Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was a guiding light for countless people globally. His emphasis on human dignity and equality will be forever remembered. I am deeply saddened by his demise, and extend my heartfelt condolences to all his admirers. May his soul rest in peace.”

UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he was deeply saddened by the news. “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 Dalai Lama took to his blog and wrote a letter to Tutu’s daughter, Reverand Mpho Tutu.

The letter read, “As you know, over the years, your father and I enjoyed an enduring friendship. I remember the many occasions we spent time together, including the week here at Dharamsala in 2015 when we were able to share our thoughts on how to increase peace and joy in the world. The friendship and the spiritual bond between us was something we cherished,” and called Tutu’s work for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an inspiration.

Tutu is survived by his wife, Nomalizo Leah Tutu and their four children.