Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who helped end apartheid in South Africa, has died aged 90.
The outspoken Tutu was considered the nation’s conscience by both Black and white, an enduring testament to his faith and spirit of reconciliation in a divided nation.
Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the late 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 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.
A frail-looking Tutu was seen in October being wheeled into his former parish at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, which used to be a safe haven for anti-apartheid activists, for a special thanksgiving service marking his 90th birthday.
Dubbed “the moral compass of the nation”, his courage in defending social justice, even at great cost to himself, always shone through – and not just during apartheid. He often fell out with his erstwhile allies at the ruling African National Congress party over their failures to address the poverty and inequalities that they promised to eradicate.
In a statement, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the churchman’s death marked “another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans”. Ramaphosa said Tutu had helped bequeath a liberated South Africa
President Ramaphosa said Tutu was “an iconic spiritual leader, anti-apartheid activist and global human rights campaigner”.
He described him as “a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead.
“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.”
Tutu was awarded the Nobel prize in 1984 for his role in the struggle to abolish the apartheid system.
Tutu’s death comes just weeks after that of South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, FW de Clerk, who died at the age of 85.
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.
Known affectionately as The Arch, Tutu was instantly recognizable, with his purple clerical robes, cheery demeanor, and almost constant smile.
He was not afraid to show his emotions in public, including memorably laughing and dancing at the opening ceremony of the football World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
Despite his popularity though he was not a man who was loved by all. He was very critical of the government in the post-apartheid era, when, at times, he felt it was misrepresenting South Africa.
Ordained as a priest in 1960, he 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. 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.