A Tribute to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Hero

Desmond Tutu, a man of many names. From a Nobel Peace Prize winner to a South African Anglican bishop. Moreover, the theologian is an anti-apartheid hero.  As well as being a human rights activist. Sadly, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, died on Sunday, aged 90. He was a veteran of South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. Moreover, he is a revered figure of South Africa’s conscience on both sides of the aisle.

Tutu won the Nobel prize in 1984 in recognition of his non-violent opposition to white minority rule. A decade later, he witnessed the end of that regime and chaired a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up to unearth atrocities committed under it.

Ever outspoken, he preached against the tyranny of the white minority.

Tributes Pour In From All Over The World

After apartheid ended, he called the Black political elite to account with as much feistiness as he had the Afrikaners, but his enduring spirit of reconciliation in a divided nation always shone through, and tributes to him poured in from around the world on Sunday.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa described Tutu in a televised address as “one of our nation’s finest patriots”, adding, “our nation’s loss is indeed a global bereavement.”

U.S. President Joe Biden said Tutu followed his spiritual calling to create a better, freer, and more equal world.

“His legacy transcends borders and will echo throughout the ages.”

“Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a mentor, a friend, and a moral compass for me and so many others,” “He never lost his impish sense of humor and willingness to find humanity in his adversaries.”

– Former President Barack Obama

Moreover, Bill Clinton called Tutu’s life “a gift.”

 “with a fondness for my meetings with him, his great warmth and humor”.

 “I am joined by the whole Royal Family in being deeply saddened by the news of the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a man who tirelessly championed human rights in South Africa and across the world.”

– Queen of England

The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall said they were “deeply saddened” to hear of his death. Furthermore, saying his bravery in speaking out “against the evil of apartheid and highlighting the threat of climate change” was an inspiration.

Tutu made a joke about “Arch and The Arch”, and his “infectious laughter” rang through the room and relaxed “anyone in his presence”.

“He was an icon for racial justice and beloved across the world,”

– When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex introduced their son, Archie, to Tutu in South Africa (2019).

Desmond Tutu’s Auto-Biography

Archbishop Desmond Tutu/ Photo: FT
Archbishop Desmond Tutu/ Photo: FT

Bishop Desmond Tutu was born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal. His father was a teacher. Whereas he received his education at Johannesburg Bantu High School. After leaving school, he trained first as a teacher at Pretoria Bantu Normal College. Moreover, in 1954, he graduated from the University of South Africa.

After three years as a high school teacher, he began to study theology, being ordained as a priest in 1960. The years 1962-66 were devoted to further theological study in England, leading up to a Masters studies in Theology. From 1967 to 1972, he taught theology in South Africa before returning to England for three years. As the assistant director of a theological institute in London. In 1975, he was appointed Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg, the first black to hold that position. From 1976 to 1978, he was Bishop of Lesotho, and in 1978 became the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is an honorary doctor of a number of leading universities in the USA, Britain and Germany.

Desmond Tutu’s Societal Objectives

Desmond Tutu has formulated his objective as “a democratic and just society without racial divisions”, and has set forward the following points as minimum demands:

1. Equal civil rights for all
2. The abolition of South Africa’s passport laws
3. A common system of education
4. The cessation of forced deportation from South Africa to the so-called “homelands”

The South African Council of Churches is a contact organization for the churches of South Africa and functions as a national committee for the World Council of Churches. Whereas the Boer churches have disassociated themselves from the organization as a result of the unambiguous stand it had made against apartheid. Around 80 per cent of its members are black, and they now dominate the leading positions.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Activism

Archbishop Desmond Tutu in an anti-apartheid protest
Archbishop Desmond Tutu in an anti-apartheid protest/ Photo: Marca

Most importantly, Archbishop Tutu was one of the driving forces behind the movement to end apartheid. Consequently, the policy saw racial segregation and discrimination against the black majority. Especially in South Africa by the white minority government.

Following the end of apartheid in 1994, when South Africa became a democracy, Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It especially documented atrocities during apartheid and sought to promote national reconciliation. Tutu also became one of the world’s most prominent religious leaders to champion LGBTQ rights.

While Tutu is best known for helping to end decades of institutional segregation and racism in South Africa. Furthermore, for heading the truth and reconciliation commission that came in its aftermath. He is also a celebratory figure for lending his voice to other injustices and oppression globally.

The respect Tutu had garnered as South Africa’s moral compass made him one of Africa’s most important LGBTQ allies. Tutu was a vocal opponent of gender discrimination and a supporter of the LGBTQ community. He was an active participant in the United Nations’ Free & Equal campaign and often compared the struggle of those singled out for their sexual orientation to apartheid.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a central figure in the launch of Free & Equal. A United Nations global public education campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in Cape Town.

Same-sex relationships and homosexuality are not acceptable in many of Africa’s more conservative corners. South Africa is the only country on the continent that has legalized gay marriage, and same-sex relationships are not legal in 32 of Africa’s 54 countries. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. Senegal and Ghana are both debating bills targeting the gay community.

Palestinian Rights

Tutu was also a vocal advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people, and politicians in Gaza and the West Bank mourned the late archbishop as an ally in their struggle.
Tutu, over the years, said that he was in opposition to oppression and violence on both sides of the conflict. But his frequent comparisons of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to that of Black South Africans. His support for boycotts of Israel drew the ire of many Israeli politicians, especially those that were more hawkish on defence issues.

Climate and environment

Tutu was a firm believer in the power of international boycotts, divestment policies and sanctions. He saw the global push to economically punish and isolate South Africa as a crucial factor in ending apartheid.
Though he retired from public service in 2010, Tutu advocated for the international community and individuals themselves consider such boycotts to stop the climate crisis in the final years of his life. He lobbied former President Barack Obama to stop the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried oil from tar sands in Canada to the United States. In 2014, Tutu travelled to Canada to assess the project on his own and hear from its supporters and opponents.
Tutu wrote multiple pieces in prominent newspapers across the world calling for action. He asked the international community to put in place an “apartheid-style boycott to save the planet” in a 2014 op-ed in the Guardian — which Greta Thunberg tweeted to acknowledge his death — and called the climate crisis the “apartheid of our times” in the Financial Times in 2019.

Desmond Tutu’s Funeral

A woman places a floral tribute outside the St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa,
A woman places a floral tribute outside the St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa/ Photo: The Hindu

The cortege of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu arrived at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town on 30th December Thursday, where he will lie in state until the funeral on Saturday.

A coffin carrying the body of Archbishop Tutu arrived at the cathedral by car on Thursday morning, accompanied by Tutu’s family.

Upon arrival, the coffin will receive blessings by awaiting members of the church. Consequently, before it is to be taken into the cathedral.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner will lie in state at the cathedral in Cape Town for two days, Thursday and Friday, to allow all mourners to pay tribute by filing past his coffin.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that Tutu’s requiem Mass on Saturday will be a Special Official Funeral Category 1.

His ashes would later be in the cathedral’s mausoleum. The funeral proceedings are to be in accordance with Tutu’s instructions.

The interfaith service formed part of multiple events leading up to Tutu’s state funeral on Saturday at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.

The cathedral bells ring for 10 minutes at midday every day. Whereas for the past week and will do so until Friday.

Members of the public will be able to view Tutu’s body on Thursday. At the cathedral, where it will lie in state until 5 pm. A condolence book has been set up outside St George’s Cathedral for members of the public to leave their messages and there is also an online version here.

Impact of Desmond Tutu on Society

Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a protest with other members of her clergy
Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a protest with other members of her clergy/ Photo: TheCultureTrip

A world-renowned South African Anglican cleric and human rights activist, Bishop Desmond Tutu’s work to end apartheid gained international attention. Moreover, this served as a basis for his being awarded the Noble Peace Prize (1984). In June 1976, after police killed youths in Soweto as they protested the repressive Bantu education system, an Anglican cleric supported the economic boycott of South Africa.

At the time, he was Bishop of Lesotho (1976-1978). After he became the first black Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches (1978-1985), Tutu joined Reverend Alan Boesak. Mainly, in the creation of the United Democratic Front (1983), an organization that called for the government to abolish apartheid and eliminate the homelands.

After the defeat of apartheid in 1990, South Africa held its first multi-racial elections in 1994. Newly elected President Nelson Mandela was appointed Archbishop Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, investigating the human rights violations of the previous 34 years.

Desmond Tutu’s Impact on South African Society

Desmond Tutu had a massive impact on South African society. Because at the time in South Africa there an Apartheid policy (a policy of segregation or discrimination on the grounds of race). Consequently, because of this, Desmond decided to make a change in African society so that all Africans in South Africa would have equal rights. Furthermore, people wouldn’t be discriminated against because of the colour of their skin. Desmond also noticed that Africans had a major outbreak of HIV. Tutu took it as his job to start up a foundation to stop the spread of HIV throughout Africa.

The DTHF (Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation) has a structure into a research division, each division under a Division Leader. While some divisions are specific to a particular site or aspect of the disease, others may overlap and cover more than one aspect or community. Their team of experienced doctors, nurses, pharmacists, health workers and community counsellors conduct research into various aspects. Most importantly, HIV prevention and treatment and because of this, they are steadily working on their way to a society where HIV doesn’t exist. So Desmond Tutu has been able to make South Africa a place of no discrimination and has sent them on their way to a society without HIV. 


Tutu continues to speak out on human rights issues. He has called on Israel to respect the human dignity of the Palestinians. He has been critical of the war in Iraq, calling it an immoral war. Moreover, the Iraq War has made the world less safe. Desmond Tutu is the moral conscience of South Africa and a facilitator of change. Most importantly, that cements the Nobel Peace Prize winner in the minds of people as a memorable figure.

The funeral of Desmond Mpilo Tutu, South African Anglican archbishop. Moreover, a human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner will take place on January 1. In his hometown, Cape Town, his foundation has been announced. You can pay your respects online or, if you are in Cape Town, you can leave a message in the condolence book at the Cathedral.

In his 90 years on earth, Tutu changed many lives. He started in South Africa, where he preached to an apartheid government that often responded with violence. Tutu then leads the search for truth and reconciliation after the government’s fall.

Leave a Reply