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Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu: A truth-talker, a unifier, a comforter, a leader

Mosiuoa Lekota, Winnie Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the front line during a Free Mandela demonstration in Cape Town in 1990. Picture: Independent Media Archives

Mosiuoa Lekota, Winnie Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the front line during a Free Mandela demonstration in Cape Town in 1990. Picture: Independent Media Archives

Published Dec 28, 2021


When news spread on Sunday of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu’s death, it came as no surprise.

For years he had been battling illness, most notably prostate cancer, which forced him to withdraw from public life in 2010, but despite this his voice against injustice and corruption, which subsumed South Africa, forced him to the front lines.

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This meant he was often subjected to abuse from those in the ANC who were perhaps irritated Tutu held them to a different standard than the apartheid regime they replaced.

While most of the leaders of South Africa’s liberation organisations were either jailed, or in exile, Tutu, along with many others, including Winnie Mandela and Allan Boesak, lead the fight against the apartheid regime from inside the country’s borders through peaceful protest.

Desmond Tutu and Allan Boesak. Picture: Independent Media Archives
Desmond Tutu seen watching TV while former South African prime minister P.W Botha is speaking. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu speaks to clergy and the media at his official residence at Bishopscourt in 1989. Picture: Independent Media Archives

Tutu’s fight against injustice was not just restricted to South Africa; his commitment was to a world more just, more compassionate and tolerant.

Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation CEO Piyushi Kotecha said: “His unwavering moral compass guided him to speak out against the evils of racism, oppression, intolerance and injustice not just during apartheid South Africa, but wherever in the world he saw moral wrongs, especially impacting the most vulnerable and voiceless in society.”

Over the years, the archbishop formed a unique bond with his spiritual brother and friend the Dalai Lama – they shared various moments of mischievousness and joy.

Sharing a moment of misfortune, in 2011 the Dalai Lama was unable to attend Tutu’s 80th birthday as South African authorities refused to grant him an entry visa.

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However, Tibet’s spiritual leader still gave his birthday lecture via a video link to celebrate his dear friend Tutu.

“Wherever there is abuse of human rights or people’s freedom is being snatched away, be it Burma or Tibet, he (Tutu) was always the first person to speak against it. He works tirelessly for truth, honesty and equality. He doesn’t see any differences,” said the Dalai Lama.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama meet the media in Cape Town in this August 21, 1996 file photo. File Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Tutu also stood in solidarity with the Palestinians and the South African Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Coalition.

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“The Arch understood the role that boycott, divestment and sanctions played in bringing the South African apartheid regime to its knees and how urgent it is that we utilise this powerful weapon to end apartheid in Israel,” said SA BDS campaign co-ordinator Roshan Dadoo.

Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils said: “Israel denied him access to Gaza in 2006 but he persisted, gaining access through Egypt, in his mission to report to the Human Rights Council on the Beit Hanoun massacre that killed 19 Palestinians, including seven children.

“This was one example of his consistency and fearlessness in the face of repression, in apartheid South Africa and in supporting the Palestinian struggle for freedom.”

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Tutu together with his wife, regularly visited Tygerberg Hospital where they talked to parents and children, read stories and brought laughter into the paediatric wards.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu holding a new born baby at a hospital in Cape Town. Picture: Independent Media Archives
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and his wife Leah, at a magistrate court in 1988. Picture: John Hogg
Nelson Mandela accompanied by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu at Bishopscourt for a press conference in 1990. Picture: Leon Muller/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in the chapel in his family home in Soweto. Picture: Independent Media Archives.
Spirit of togetherness Archbishop Desmond Tutu shares a light moment with his wife Leah, Graça Machel and Nelson Mandela at his home in Orlando West, Soweto. Picture: Kim Ludbrook/African News Agency (ANA) Archives.
Reverand Mvumelweno Hamilton Dandala (left), President Thabo Mbeki and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu share a moment before the induction ceremony of Reverand Mvumelweno Hamilton Dandala as General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches which took place at Vista, Soweto in 2003. Picture: Chris Collingridge/Independent Media Archives

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