Feb 2022 1st edition

Celebrating the life of Archbishop Tutu

Written by Allison Cooper

Tributes poured in from across the world to celebrate global icon Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu’s life, following his recent passing at the age of 90. Recently, the country bid farewell to anti-apartheid icon, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

The spiritual leader, anti-apartheid activist and human rights campaigner dedicated his life to the cause of freedom.

President Cyril Ramaphosa described Archbishop Tutu as “a humble and brave human being who spoke up for the oppressed, the downtrodden and the suffering." The President delivered the eulogy at Archbishop Tutu's funeral, which was declared a Special Official Funeral - Category 1.

“How fitting is it that his parents named him Mpilo, meaning life. In his life, he enriched the lives of all he met and all those who got to know him,” said President Ramaphosa.

Democracy and human rights

Archbishop Tutu’s advocacy ranged widely, beginning with appeals for sanctions against apartheid and continuing with campaigns against homophobia, for gender equality and against child marriage, said President Ramaphosa.

It was in 1976, from the pulpit of St Mary’s Cathedral, that he began to speak out against apartheid.

He penned a letter to apartheid Prime Minister Balthazar Johannes Vorster warning him about imminent turmoil due to the desperate conditions South Africans were facing. A few weeks later, the Soweto uprisings occurred.

In the 1980s, he began lobbying for sanctions overseas and was instrumental in persuading the Canadian and French prime ministers, and the United States Congress, to impose them. He also led packed church services in Soweto in protest against the white racist rule in South Africa and, in 1989, led an anti-apartheid march with an estimated 30 000 participants in Cape Town.

Also an HIV/AIDS activist, Archbishop Tutu co-chaired the UNAIDS Commission (2011); supported the ordination of women as priests, the ordination of gay and lesbian priests and the blessing of same-sex unions.

He was a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex,  Asexual (LGBTQIA+) ally and campaigned for equal rights for the community and for the community to be recognised by the Anglican church.

Through the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, Archbishop Tutu was involved in the treatment and care of people living with HIV and AIDS, the provision of healthcare services to adolescents and the empowerment of young women.

A man of many accolades

Archbishop Tutu received many accolades in this lifetime. He was the second African to receive the Nobel Peace Prize (1984).

He also received the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism (1986); Sydney Peace Prize (1999); Gandhi Peace Prize (2007); Fullbright Prize (2008); United States Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009) and the Templeton Prize in 2013.

Born in Klerksdorp in the North West on 7 October 1931, Archbishop Tutu married Nomalizo Leah Shenxane in 1955.

Once admitted as a sub-deacon in 1958, he enrolled at St Peter’s Theological College in Rosettenville. He was made deacon in December 1960 at St Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg and was ordained as a priest in December 1961.

In 1975, he became the first black Anglican Dean of Johannesburg and the Rector of St Mary’s Cathedral and he became a bishop in 1976.

In 1986, after having served as bishop of Johannesburg for 18 months, he took on the role of bishop of Cape Town, and became the first black person to lead the Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa. He was also president of the All Africa Conference of Churches. In 1988, he was appointed as the chancellor of the University of the Western Cape.

At former President Nelson Mandela’s request, he then became the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

“He led the TRC process, and he did so with integrity, dignity and humility. While our beloved Madiba was the father of our democracy, Archbishop Tutu was the spiritual father of our new nation,” said President Ramaphosa.

A man of faith

Archbishop Tutu was a man with a faith as deep as it was abiding, the President said.

“He was not content to decry apartheid at conferences or benefit concerts or international fora. He was there, with the freedom fighters, confronting the regime and comforting its victims.”

The President added that he was with the homeless, the helpless, the persecuted, the sick and the destitute in the streets, in shelters and in homes.

 “The most fitting tribute we can pay to him, whoever and wherever we are, is to take up the cause of social justice for which he tirelessly campaigned,” the President said.

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