Desmond Tutu, peacemaker in creation of a new South Africa, dies, aged 90

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Desmond Tutu, who died on Dec. 26, 2021, the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town speaking at the World Council of Churches in Geneva on April 20, 2008.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who spoke truth to power and forged peace and reconciliation in the making of a new South Africa, has died at the age of 90.

"While we mourn his passing, as Christians and people of faith we must also celebrate the life of a deeply spiritual person whose alpha and omega – his starting point and his ending point – was his relationship with our Creator," said Cape Town Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.

"He took God, God's purpose and God's creation deadly seriously," said Makgoba shortly after Tutu's passing on Dec. 26.

His funeral will take place in Cape Town on Jan. 1, 2022.

Known affectionately to many as "the Arch," Tutu was born in the town of Klerksdorp, not far from Johannesburg, and first worked as a teacher before joining the church.

He not only led an unstinting campaign against the iniquities of apartheid but worked for reconcilation and he also castigated the ruling African National Congress for failing to deliver to the people. 

World Council of Churches acting general secretary Rev. Ioan Sauca said, "We thank God for giving us Archbishop Tutu for 90 years.

"Through his life and works he has become an image of dignity and freedom for all human beings and inspired many to use their gifts and talents in the service of others and the mission and prophetic task of the church."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, often seen as the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion said, "Archbishop Tutu was a prophet and priest, a man of words and action, one who embodied the hope and joy that were the foundations of his life.

"He was a man of extraordinary personal courage and bravery: when the police burst into Capetown Cathedral, he defied them by dancing down the aisle."

Tutu was not just prepared to take on police officers. I remember as a young reporter in July 1985 covering the funeral of  four young black men killed in the battle against apartheid authorities in which Tutu led the service in Duduza a black township, not far from Johannesburg.

Such services could themselves turn into scenes of confrontation and the atmosphere could be seething and tense.

On this occasion at the end of the service a crowd of youths mobbed someone accused of being a police informer, beating him. They dousied him with gasoline and put a gasoline-doused tire (which was called the necklace) around his neck. They wanted to execute the accused informer and throw him into his burning car.

The mob more than 50 strong was shouted for him to be killed and burnt as they beat the man.

But Tutu and another black Anglican bishop, Simeon Nkoane, dragged the semi-conscious, badly wounded man to safety. Tutu admonished the would-be executioners as he lamented the escalating violence all around at the time in South Africa.

Welby told the BBC, "Tutu just had this extraordinary, bubbly, overwhelming sense of humor."


South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his condolences to Tutu's family and friends, calling him "a patriot without equal."

Tutu was an avowed critic of apartheid, but did not stay silent when he saw injustices comitted by the rulers who took over in 1994.

"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," Ramaphosa said

Ill health had dogged Tutu for some years, but the exact cause of his death was not announced. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the 1990s and in recent years he was hospitalized on several occasions to treat infections associated with his cancer treatment.

Tutu "died peacefully at the Oasis Frail Care Center in Cape Town this morning," said Ramphela Mamphele, the acting chairperson of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu IP Trust and coordinator of his office.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that Tutu;s death deeply saddened him. "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."

U.S. President Joe Biden said Tutu called to create a better, freer, and more equal world in following his spiritua calling.


"His legacy transcends borders and will echo throughout the ages."

During the height of the struggles against apartheid Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his efforts in leading the non-violent struggle and elevating the lives of ordinary South African in his role as an Anglican church leader, while Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned.

After the official start of the new South Africa in 1994 President Nelson Mandela chose Tutu as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which many saw a doing vital healing, but some said did not dig deep into apartheid and the conflict around it.

John Allen served Tutu as his press secretary during the turbulent 1980s until 1996 and was also his official biographer with the book Rabble-Rouser for Peace.

Allen wrote in an obituary for Tutu for All Africa, "Unlike two other iconic 20th century campaigners against structural injustice, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., he lived to see the first fruits of his radical but peaceful promotion of fundamental change in his own society. Not only that, he lived to bring the political leaders who liberated South Africa under the same piercing – at times angry – scrutiny to which he subjected the apartheid and other oppressive governments.

"Tutu's advocacy ranged widely, beginning with appeals for sanctions against apartheid and continuing with campaigns against homophobia, for gender equality, against child marriage, against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, against oppression in nations from China and Burma to Panama, and in support of the 'second wave' of liberation which saw the growth of multi-party democracy across Africa from 1989."

Tutu leaves behind his 88-year-old wife, Nomalizo Leah, a son, Trevor Tamsanqa, and  daughters, Thandeka, Nontombi and Mpho, who also have families.

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Sunday service at the Soweto's Holy Cross Anglican Church in Orlando West, South Africa, on June, 18,2017. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu once served this parish.
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