Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu has reportedly passed away on December 26 at the age of 90, according to a statement by the office of South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa.
The beloved Nobel Peace Prize winner leaves behind an unmatched legacy. Tutu spent decades fighting against injustice and apartheid in South Africa. The lauded peacemaker was the first black person to be appointed the Anglican dean of Johannesburg and the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches. He was a leading spokesperson for the rights of Black South Africans.
Tutu’s devoted advocacy for the freedom and equality of all people was only comparable to other legendary human rights activists like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela.
Tutu’s universal appeal can be attributed to his unwavering positive outlook on life despite the ugliness of oppression. He once said, "So, I never doubted that ultimately we were going to be free because ultimately I knew there was no way in which a lie could prevail over the truth, darkness over light, death over life."
Born on October 7, 1931, in Klerksdorp, South Africa, Tutu grew up in severe segregation. His father was an elementary school principal and his mother worked cooking and cleaning at a school for the blind. Black Africans were denied the right to vote and forced to live in specific areas and received poorer education. Although Tutu was aware of the mistreatment he faced based solely on the color of his skin, he never let it stop him from enjoying life.
Eventually, his family relocated to Johannesburg. Tutu excelled academically throughout his school years. After contracting tuberculosis as a teen, he was inspired to become a doctor. Although he was accepted into medical school, he didn’t attend because his family couldn’t afford the expensive tuition. Instead, he accepted a scholarship to study education at Pretoria Bantu Normal College and graduated with his teacher's certificate in 1953. A year later he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Africa.
On July 2, 1955, Tutu married Nomalizo Leah Shenxane.
After a few years of teaching, Tutu grew frustrated with the rampant racism and inequality, especially within the schooling system. Fed up with the poor funding and low standards of education that Black South Africans were subjected to, Tutu quit.
His departure from the educational system in 1957 was the beginning of his journey to becoming a revered international spiritual leader. The following year he began studying at St. Peter’s Theological College in Johannesburg. He eventually became an ordained Anglican deacon and eventually a priest. Tutu continued his religious studies in London where he received his master’s degree in theology. By the late 1960s, he had taught abroad and served as a chaplain at the University of Fort Hare. In 1970, Tutu became a lecturer in the theology department at the University of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland in Roma. A couple of years later he found himself back in England serving as the associate director of the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches in Kent.
Throughout the mid-1970s and 1980s, Tutu was the voice of the South African anti-apartheid movement. During this time, he was appointed Bishop of Lesotho, as well as the first Black citizen to serve as the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches.
In 1984, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Receiving that top honor brought global attention to South African’s anti-apartheid movement. This position catapulted Tutu into the spotlight, elevating him to one of the most prominent and respected forces in the South African anti-apartheid crusade.
Throughout the mid-1980s he held many high-ranking positions, including being appointed the Bishop of Johannesburg, Archbishop of Cape Town, and the president of the All Africa Conference of Churches. In 1993, apartheid finally ended. Tutu’s influence and an unyielding dedication to dismantling apartheid were instrumental to the outcome.
Until his death, Tutu remained committed to bringing social justice issues to the forefront. The award-winning leader once said: “Despite all of the ghastliness in the world, human beings are made for goodness. The ones that are held in high regard are not militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous. They have a commitment to try and make the world a better place.”
Tutu is survived by his wife Nomalizo Leah, of 65 years, and their four children: Trevor Thamsanqa Tutu, Theresa Thandeka Tutu , Naomi Nontombi Tutu, and Mpho Andrea Tutu.