South Africa’s Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has died at the age of 90. The Nobel peace laureate was known worldwide for anti-apartheid activism and as a champion of human rights.
His death was announced Sunday by South African President 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 said.
Tutu was far more than a spiritual leader.
He spent his life advocating for civil rights and speaking out against injustice, corruption and oppression.
Thabo Makgoba is the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town.
“He wanted every human being on Earth to experience the freedom, the peace, and the joy that all of us could enjoy if we truly respected one another. And because he worshiped to God, he feared no one.He named wrong wherever he saw it and by whoever it was committed,” Makgoba said.
Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his activism against South Africa’s racist apartheid regime.
When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Tutu housed him on his first night of freedom.
The archbishop then presented Mandela to the public as the country’s first Black president in 1994.
Tutu was at the helm in the country’s healing process after apartheid, chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where many horrific accounts of injustice were heard.
Despite the hardships he confronted, Tutu is remembered for his peaceful activism and ability to forgive.
Parliamentarian Patricia De Lille spoke to reporters about her memories of the Arch, as he was known.
“Humor and a great sense of timing were amongst the Arch’s greatest assets. He had an extraordinary ability to defuse tension, contain anger, and remind people of their human essence. He used humor to convey important messages. And had that particular, that we all know, contagious love,” she said.
Tributes to Tutu have been pouring in.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden said they were “heartbroken” to learn of Tutu’s passing. “His courage and moral clarity helped inspire our commitment to change American policy toward the repressive Apartheid regime in South Africa,” the Bidens said in a statement.
"Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a mentor, a friend and a moral compass for me and so many others. A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere,” said former U.S. President Barack Obama.
“I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He was a critical figure in the fight against apartheid and in the struggle to create a new South Africa and will be remembered for his spiritual leadership and irrepressible good humor,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “Archbishop Tutu was a towering global figure for peace and an inspiration to generations across the world. During the darkest days of apartheid, he was a shining beacon for social justice, freedom and non-violent resistance."
Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama said “Archbishop Desmond Tutu was entirely dedicated to serving his brothers and sisters for the greater common good. He was a true humanitarian and a committed advocate of human rights.”
The Nelson Mandela Foundation said Tutu’s “contributions to struggles against injustice, locally and globally, are matched only by the depth of his thinking about the making of liberatory futures for human societies. He was an extraordinary human being. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd.”
After his retirement at the age of 79, Tutu continued speaking out on ethical and moral issues from xenophobia to LGBTQ+ rights to climate change.
President Ramaphosa has called him “a patriot without equal” and “a man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility.”
Details of his funeral have not yet been announced.
Tutu is survived by his wife, children, siblings and their families.
Some information in this report came from AP and Reuters.