FILE – Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu speaks in an interview with Associated Press in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday March 21, 2003. Tutu, South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for Racial Justice and LGBT Rights and retired Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town has died at the age of 90, announced the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. (AP Photo / Themba Hadebe, File)
JOHANNESBURG – Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, an uncompromising enemy of apartheid and a modern day activist for racial justice and LGBT rights, died on Sunday at the age of 90. South Africans, world leaders and people around the world mourned the death of the man viewed as the country’s moral conscience.
Tutu worked passionately, tirelessly and non-violently to tear down apartheid – South Africa’s brutal, decades-long regime of oppression against its black majority that only ended in 1994.
The spirited, outspoken clergyman used his pulpit as the first black bishop of Johannesburg and later the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, as well as frequent public demonstrations, to mobilize public opinion against racial inequality, both domestically and globally.
Nicknamed “The Arch”, the little tutu became a prominent figure in his nation’s history, likened to Nobel Prize winner Nelson Mandela, a prisoner during the white rule who became South Africa’s first black president. Tutu and Mandela shared a commitment to building a better, more equal South Africa.
When Mandela became president in 1994, he named Tutu chairman of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which exposed the abuses of apartheid.
Tutu’s death on Sunday “is another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s departure from a generation of outstanding South Africans who left us a liberated South Africa,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“From the sidewalks of the resistance in South Africa to the pulpits of the great cathedrals and places of worship around the world to the prestigious setting of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the arch distinguished itself as a non-sectarian, integrative advocate of universal human rights. ” he said.
Tutu died peacefully at the Oasis Frail Care Center in Cape Town, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Trust announced. He had been hospitalized several times since 2015 after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997.
“He has turned his own misfortunes into a teaching opportunity to raise awareness and alleviate the suffering of others,” said the Tutu Foundation. “He wanted the world to know that he had prostate cancer and that the sooner it was discovered, the better the chances of treating it.”
For the past few years he and his wife Leah have lived in a retirement home outside of Cape Town.
Former US President Barack Obama praised Tutu as “a moral compass for me and so many others. As a universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was rooted in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also preoccupied with injustice everywhere. He has never lost his mischievous sense of humor and his willingness to find humanity in his adversaries. “
Tutu’s life was “entirely dedicated to serving his brothers and sisters for the common good. He was a true philanthropist, “said the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader and Tutu’s friend.
“His legacy is moral strength, moral courage and clarity,” said Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, in a video statement. “He felt for people. In public and alone he cried because he felt the pain of people. And he laughed – no, he didn’t just laugh, he cackled with joy – as he shared her joy. “
In Cape Town, a seven-day mourning period is planned before Tutu’s funeral, including a two-day laying out, an ecumenical service and an Anglican funeral mass in St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. The landmark of the southern city, Table Mountain, shines in purple, the color of the robes that Tutu wore as archbishop.
In the 1980s – when anti-apartheid violence gripped South Africa and the state of emergency gave the police and the military far-reaching powers – Tutu was one of the most prominent black leaders to speak out against abuse.
A lively joke eased Tutu’s tough messages and warmed otherwise grim protests, funerals, and marches. Brave and persistent, he was a formidable force with a refined talent at citing appropriate scriptures to use the support for change.
The 1984 Nobel Peace Prize underscored his position as one of the world’s most effective advocates of human rights, a responsibility he took seriously for the rest of his life.
With the end of apartheid and the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, Tutu celebrated the country’s multiracial society, calling it a “rainbow nation,” an expression that reflected the heady optimism of the time.
In 1990, after 27 years in prison, Mandela spent his first night at liberty in Tutu’s residence in Cape Town. Mandela later called Tutu “the archbishop of the people”.
Tutu also advocated human rights internationally, particularly LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriages.
“I would not worship a homophobic God,” he said in 2013 and started a campaign for LGBTQ rights in Cape Town. “I would refuse to go to homophobic heaven. No, I would say, ‘Sorry, I would much rather go somewhere else.’ “
Tutu said he was “as passionate about this campaign as I have been about apartheid. For me it’s on par. ”He was one of the most prominent religious leaders advocating for LGBTQ rights – an attitude that brought him into conflict with many in South Africa and across the continent, as well as within the Anglican Church.
South Africa, Tutu said, was a “rainbow nation” promising racial reconciliation and equality, despite disaffection with the African National Congress, the anti-apartheid movement that became the ruling party after the 1994 elections. His frank statements long after apartheid sometimes angered partisans who accused him of being biased or non-contact.
Tutu was particularly outraged by the South African government’s refusal to grant the Dalai Lama a visa, which prevented the Tibetan spiritual leader from attending Tutu’s 80th birthday and a planned meeting of Nobel Prize winners in Cape Town. The government rejected Tutu’s allegations and bowed to pressure from China, a major trading partner.
In early 2016, Tutu defended the reconciliation policy that ended white minority rule amid mounting frustration among some black South Africans who felt they had not seen the economic opportunities expected since the end of apartheid. Tutu had headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the apartheid atrocities and granted amnesty to some perpetrators, but some people believed that more former white officials should be prosecuted.
Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born on October 7, 1931 in Klerksdorp, west of Johannesburg, and became a teacher before entering St. Peter’s Theological College in Rosetenville in 1958. He was ordained a priest in 1961 and became a chaplain at the University of Fort Hase six years later.
He then moved to the tiny South African kingdom of Lesotho and Great Britain, and returned home in 1975. He became Bishop of Lesotho, Chairman of the South African Council of Churches, and in 1985 the first black Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg. In 1986 Tutu was named Cape Town’s first black Archbishop. He ordained female priests and promoted gay priests.
Tutu was arrested in 1980 for joining a protest and his passport was later confiscated for the first time. He got it back for trips to the US and Europe, where he spoke to the UN Secretary General, the Pope and other church leaders.
Tutu called for international sanctions against South Africa and talks to end apartheid.
Tutu often held funerals after the massacres that marked the negotiation period 1990-1994. He railed against the political violence black against black and asked the crowd: “Why are we doing this to ourselves?” In a powerful moment, Tutu defused the anger of thousands of mourners at a township soccer stadium after the 1992 massacre of 42 people in Boipatong, and led the crowd in chants proclaiming their love for God and themselves.
As the head of the truth commission, Tutu and his panel heard harrowing statements about torture, murders and other atrocities during apartheid. At some of the hearings, Tutu cried openly.
“Without forgiveness there is no future,” he said at the time.
The Commission’s 1998 report found the forces of apartheid most to blame, but also found the African National Congress guilty of human rights abuses. The ANC sued for publication of the document and received a reprimand from Tutu. “I have not struggled to remove a group of those who thought they were tin gods to replace with others who are tempted to believe them,” Tutu said.
In July 2015, Tutu renewed his 1955 vows with Ms. Leah surrounded by their four children.
“You can see that we followed the biblical invitation: we have multiplied and are fruitful,” Tutu told the congregation. “But we all want to say thank you … We knew that we would be nothing without you.”
Tutu leaves behind his 66-year-old wife and their children.
Once asked how he would be remembered, he told The Associated Press, “He loved. He laughed. He cried. He was forgiven. He forgave. Very privileged. “
AP journalist Christopher Torchia contributed to this report.