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South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero Archbishop Tutu dies at 90

Written by on December 26, 2021

Desmond Tutu, a South African Anglican bishop and theologian, known for his work as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist died today at the age of 90.

According to President Cyril Ramaphosa, “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, he distinguished himself as a non-sectarian, inclusive champion of universal human rights”

Even though the presidency gave no details on the cause of his death, Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the late 1990s and, in recent years, was hospitalised on several occasions to treat infections associated with his treatment.

“Ultimately, at the age of 90, he died peacefully at the Oasis Frail Care Centre in Cape Town this morning,” Dr Ramphela Mamphele, acting chairperson of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu IP Trust and Co-ordinator of the Office of the Archbishop, said in a statement on behalf of the Tutu family.

The Archbishop Emeritus was awarded the Nobel prize in 1984 for his role in the struggle to abolish the apartheid system. His death comes just weeks after that of South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, FW de Clerk, who died at the age of 85.

BBC’s Andrew Harding said “it is impossible to imagine South Africa’s long and tortuous journey to freedom – and beyond – without Archbishop Desmond Tutu. While other struggle leaders were killed, or forced into exile, or prison, the diminutive, defiant Anglican priest was there at every stage, exposing the hypocrisy of the apartheid state, comforting its victims, holding the liberation movement to account, and daring Western governments to do more to isolate a white-minority government that he compared, unequivocally, to the Nazis”.

When democracy arrived, Tutu used his moral authority to oversee the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that sought to expose the crimes of the white-minority government. Later he turned that same fierce gaze on the failings, in government, of South Africa’s former liberation movement, the ANC.

Andrew Harding

“Many South Africans today will remember Tutu’s personal courage and the clarity of his moral fury. But as those who knew him best have so often reminded us, Tutu was always, emphatically, the voice of hope. And it is that hope, that optimism, accompanied, so often, by his trademark giggles and cackles, that seems likely to shape the way the world remembers, and celebrates, Archbishop Desmond Tutu”, Harding added.

Ordained as a priest in 1960, Tutu went on to serve as bishop of Lesotho from 1976-78, assistant bishop of Johannesburg and rector of a parish in Soweto. He became Bishop of Johannesburg in 1985 and was appointed the first black Archbishop of Cape Town the following year. He used his high-profile role to speak out against the oppression of black people in his home country, always saying his motives were religious and not political.

After Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, Tutu was appointed by him to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to investigate crimes committed by both whites and blacks during the apartheid era.

He was also credited with coining the term Rainbow Nation to describe the ethnic mix of post-apartheid South Africa, but in his later years, he expressed regret that the nation had not coalesced in the way in which he had dreamt.

Editor’s note: This report partly cited BBC’s comment


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