News / Africa

Tutu, 79, Retires from High-Profile Public Life

Nobel peace prize laureate South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu smiles during a press conference (File Photo)
Nobel peace prize laureate South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu smiles during a press conference (File Photo)

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu has retired from public life to spend more time with his family and on personal pursuits. However, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate will continue some leadership roles.

Archbishop Tutu marked his 79th birthday and his retreat from public life with a party for family and friends on a cruise ship in Cape Town harbor.

The "Arch" as he is fondly known in South Africa, said in July he was spending too much time on planes and in airports on the lecture and conference circuit. Rather he said, he wants to have tea in the afternoons with his wife, write, pray, and watch lots of sport on TV.

Tutu used the pulpit and his clerical standing to boldly challenge the apartheid government for the injustices of the race based system. His actions brought him global recognition and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. He became the darling of the international media, but the target of government invective and anger. In an earlier interview Tutu told VOA that he may have been the one to stand out, but many others were at his side.

"I had very many supporting me and if I was standing it was because of all the many who were carrying me on their shoulders," he said. "And that is not being conventionally modest, it is the truth."

He added that the issues confronting church leaders during apartheid were clear-cut and straightforward.

"In a way I was fortunate to be part of the leadership of the church at a time when it was fairly straightforward, you were against apartheid, there was that system," he said. "And all you had to do was to fight against that system, and it is one of the easiest things actually to be against."

When democracy came to South Africa in 1994, Tutu joyfully described the people of this country as the "rainbow nation of God", a term that has come into common use.

In 1996 Tutu became chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to deal with gross human rights violations during the apartheid era. The commission gave victims an opportunity to have their grievances investigated by the commission and to share their stories. It also was mandated to grant amnesty to perpetrators who applied and fully disclosed their crimes.

Earlier this year it was revealed that Tutu had participated in a genome study and had his complete DNA sequenced. The study revealed that not only is Tutu a modern African, he also carries the DNA of South Africa's earliest residents, the Khoekhoe people.

Tutu earlier told VOA he was particularly delighted at the news, because the apartheid government had refused to officially acknowledge him as a South African national.

"And then just the wonderful privilege of discovering, you know I used to say when the apartheid government gave me a travel document that described my nationality as undeterminable at present, I said I mean you are crazy you guys.... my father, my mother, their parents before them were born in this country, how can I be undeterminable," he said.

Tutu will continue his work with the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, and with The Elders, a global council of respected individuals founded by fellow Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela.

See related report by Deborah Block:

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