Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town
Tireless Anti-apartheid activist
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 1984
Statesman and peacemaker
Master of theology
Honorary doctor of a number of leading universities worldwide.

His best qualities are his deep compassion, keen intellect, practicality, energy, positivity and wit.

Tutu has been a champion of justice, human rights and democracy, and a tireless foe of apartheid. Due to his status as peaceful clergyman, he was never banned, silenced or imprisoned as so many political leaders were.

He is never afraid to speak his mind, even if it is dangerous or unpopular to do so. These options have included, most controversially, that when political leaders are imprisoned and not allowed to speak, the church must speak up for them, and even speak in their stead.


Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born on 7 October 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal, South Africa. Klerksdorp is a gold-mining town. He was the son of a teacher at a Methodist school. He married Leah Nomalizo Tutu on 2nd July 1955. They have four children.

Desmond Tutu first trained as a teacher, and taught from 1955 to 1958, but grew frustrated with the limitations of the inferior syllabus for black children, designed to equip them only for menial tasks.

In 1958-1960 he underwent training for the priesthood at St. Peters Theological College in Rosettenville, Johannesburg. He was ordained in 1960 (1961 in one source). He then studied in England from 1962 to 1966 with his family. He received a masters in Theology in 1966.

From 1967 to 1972 he taught theology in South Africa, training black clergy, first in a town called Alice. Alice is a small town in the Eastern Cape (then Transkei), and is the site of the University of Fort Hare. He continued teaching in Lesotho from 1970. In 1975 he became dean of Dean of St. Mary's Cathedral in Johannesburg. He was the first black man to hold that position.

From 1976 to 1978 he was Bishop of Lesotho. According to one source, he was the first black man to be a bishop of the Anglican church.

On May 6th 1976 he wrote a letter to Prime Minister John Vorster.

I am writing to you, sir, because I have a growing nightmarish fear that unless something drastic is done very soon then bloodshed and violence are going to happen in South Africa almost inevitably. A people can take only so much and no more...

I wish to God that I am wrong and I have misread history and the situation in my beloved homeland, my mother country, South Africa...

A people made desperate by despair and injustice and oppression will use desperate means. I am frightened, dreadfully frightened, that we may soon reach a point of no return, when events will generate a momentum of their own, when nothing will stop their reaching a bloody denouement which is 'too ghastly to contemplate' to quote your words, sir...

Last year, I was privileged to address the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland in Belfast - and what I saw shook me to the core of my being...

We saw daily on TV in Britain horrific pictures of the pillage and destruction being perpetrated in Vietnam, children screaming from the excruciating agony of burns caused by napalm bombing, a people rushing helter skelter, looking so forlorn and bewildered until one wanted to cry out 'But is there no God who cares in heaven?...

No, I know violence and bloodshed and I and many of our people don't want them at all...

But we blacks are exceedingly patient and peace-loving. We are aware that politics is the art of the possible. We cannot expect you to move so far in advance of your voters that you alienate their support...

We are ready to accept some meaningful signs which would demonstrate that you and your government and all whites really mean business when you say you want peaceful change...

Accept the urban black as a permanent inhabitant of what is wrongly called white South Africa with consequent freehold property rights...

I shall soon become Bishop of Lesotho when I must reside in my diocese. But I am quite clear in my own mind, and my wife supports me in this resolve, that we should retain our South African citizenship no matter how long we have to remain in Lesotho...

The letter was not answered.

In 1977 he was asked to speak at the funeral of Stephen Biko. Biko's death was apparently a turning point for Tutu, when he became convinced that the church had to play a political role against Apartheid.

In 1978 he became General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches. The SACC was a politicised organisation. This gave him more media exposure, and he spoke around the world, calling for sanctions against South Africa as a non-violent way of weakening apartheid.

The government revoked his passport in 1979.

In 1984 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work and leadership against apartheid. He was the second black south African to get this award (Albert Luthuli was the first in 1961)

From his acceptance speech:

There is no peace in Southern Africa. There is no peace because there is no justice. There can be no real peace and security until there be first justice enjoyed by all the inhabitants of that beautiful land. The Bible knows nothing about peace without justice, for that would be crying, "Peace, peace, where there is no peace." God's shalom peace, involves inevitably righteousness, justice, wholeness, fullness of life, participation in decision making, goodness, laughter, joy, compassion, sharing and reconciliation.

I have spoken extensively about South Africa, first because it is the land I know best, but because it is also a microcosm of the world and an example of what is to be found in other lands in differing degree-when there is injustice, invariably peace becomes a casualty.

When will we learn that human beings are of infinite value because they have been created in the image of God, that it is blasphemy to treat them as if they were less than this, and to do so ultimately recoils on those who do this? In dehumanising others, they are themselves dehumanised. Perhaps oppression dehumanises the oppressor as much as, if not more than, the oppressed. They need each other to become truly free, to become human. We can be human only in fellowship, in community, in koinonia , in peace.

Let us work to be peacemakers, those given a wonderful share in our Lord's ministry of reconciliation. If we want peace, so we have been told, let us work for justice. Let us beat our swords into ploughshares.

A month later he was elected bishop of Johannesburg. Johannesburg is by far the largest city in South Africa, a much busier parish than Lesotho.

In 1986 he was consecrated to Archbishop of Cape Town, the head of 1.6 million Anglicans in South Africa. He was the first black man to hold this position.

The Anglican Archbishop's residence in Cape Town is on a hill, an area of mansions that reeks of white, anglophone and anglophile old money. Under the Group Areas Act this area was of course, for whites only. The suburb is called Bishopscourt. Many of the residents send their sons to the most prestigious school in Cape Town, Diocesan College, AKA Bishops (

The Archbishop was a familiar sight in the late eighties and early nineties, when apartheid was cracking under the pressure. When tension was at it's highest. He would jog around the leafy avenues in his jogging shorts and a vest, sweatband around his head, smiling at all. The Anglophone whites are not as blatantly racist as the Afrikaners, but they make up for it in their strong sense of what's proper. The fact that he was allowed to reside there, that he was untouchable, was a small victory.

In 1992 he spent time at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, on sabbatical.

He retired from the church in June 1995, but was not idle. He chaired the Truth and Reconciliation commission at Nelson Mandela's request thereafter.

He was diagnosed with Prostate cancer in 1997, which recurred in 1999. However, the treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta seems to have been successful so far.

In 1999-2000 he was back at Emory University.

He continues to speak up on important issues such as AIDS and the political crisis in Zimbabwe circa 2002-2003. He is known to support gay priests. He has been a supporter of Rowan Williams. He has called for sanctions against Israel, hoping for the Israeli government to withdraw from Occupied Territories: "More than thirty-five new settlements have been constructed in the past year. Each one is a step away from the safety deserved by the Israelis, and two steps away from the justice owed to the Palestinians."


The struggle

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

We don't want apartheid liberalized. We want it dismantled. You can't improve something that is intrinsically evil.

Nothing, not even the most sophisticated weapon, not even the most brutally efficient policy, no, nothing will stop people once they are determined to achieve their freedom and their right to humanness.

I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.

I am a leader by default, only because nature does not allow a vacuum.


Those who invest in South Africa should not think they are doing us a favour; they are here for what they get out of our cheap and abundant labour, and they should know that they are buttressing one of the most vicious systems.

When we were struggling against apartheid, we were looking for non-violent strategies and one of the most effective was calling for disinvestment, calling for sanctions, and I was one of the spokespersons on behalf of it, and that is why I was vilified at home and in other places in other parts of the world for being Mr. Sanctions. Now that we have achieved our goal, which is the destruction of apartheid and getting our country to become a more normal society, we need investment.

Liberation theology

I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, "Now is that political or social?" He said, "I feed you." Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.


For goodness sake, will they hear, will white people hear what we are trying to say? Please, all we are asking you to do is to recognize that we are humans, too.

Just as those who have been capable of the most horrendous atrocities turn out to be ordinary human beings like you and me, so too those who have demonstrated noteworthy instances of the capacity to forgive could easily be the man or woman living down the street. Wonderfully, forgiveness and reconciliation are possible anywhere and everywhere and have indeed been taking place, often unsung, unremarked.

Be nice to whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity.

A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons.

And God says, there are no outsiders -- black, white, red, yellow, short, tall, young, old, rich, poor, gay, lesbian, straight -- everyone. All belong.

You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them.

Quoted in Antjie Krog's Country of my skull, in response to General Tienie Groenewald's criticism of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: "I confess to God, not to Tutu"

If you've had a fight with your wife, it is of no use you only ask forgiveness of God. You will have to say to your wife that you are sorry. The past has not only contaminated our relationship with God, but the relationship between people as well. And you will have to ask forgiveness of the representatives of the communities that you have hurt.

After apartheid

It is very difficult now to find anyone in South Africa who ever supported apartheid.

Disputed quotes

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind
This quote is occasionally attributed to Tutu, but more often to Mahatma Ghandi. I for one remember Tutu saying it. I guess he wasn't the first to do so.


When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said "Let us pray." We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.
A substantially similar quote has also been attributed to Jomo Kenyatta. Since Mr Kenyatta was born 39 years earlier, his may well be the prior origin.


Lots of Desmond Tutu's words are included in this writeup because that's what he does. Poets, priests and politicians have words to thank for their position. Desmond Tutu is at least two of those.

Facts are from the interweb (for once, there is an abundance of excellent material). Opinions and anecdotes are from memory.

I don't share Desmond Tutu's faith, or necessarily agree with all the dogma that he says, but he has my infinite respect for his practical decisions in this world, and his emphasis on them over abstract passive theology, and the strength of his peaceful principles.

Sometimes I wonder what he would have been like if Africa hadn't been Christianised. Desmond Tutu might have made one kick-ass Sangoma.

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