Archbishop Tutu South Africa's moral conscience

Tutu was an outspoken campaigner for human rights

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Published: Sun 26 Dec 2021, 10:36 PM

He had a remarkable sense of humour, the ability to communicate with even the most extreme people and a sense of fairness and justice that were displayed in all of his actions. Known as South Africa’s ‘moral conscience’, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who passed away in Cape Town on Boxing Day aged 90, was also an outspoken campaigner for human rights.

More than four years ago, when he was 86 and frail, he walked out of his retirement home and joined a protest against the removal of the renowned South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan by then President Jacob Zuma.

“We will pray for the downfall of a government that misrepresents us,” he said.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born in October 1931 in the gold-mining town of Transvaal; his father was a school teacher and his mother worked for a laundry. Desmond wanted to be a doctor, but his parents could not afford to pay the fees.

He then chose the Anglican priesthood getting a bachelor’s and master’s degree in theology from King’s College in England. In 1975, he became the first Black Anglican dean of Johannesburg and three years later the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches. His objective was clear: a democratic and just society without racial divisions. Soon after becoming the archbishop of Cape Town, he led the church to the forefront of the battle against apartheid.

In 1984, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but he was not just opposed to violence by the Whites, he condemned attacks by activists of the Black liberation movement, consequently earning their wrath. After his remarkable victory, Nelson Mandela who became the first Black President of South Africa, appointed Desmond as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

With his avid interest in Islam – he did a dissertation on Islam in West Africa in the 1960s; he also took up a lot of issues relating to them across the world. The Muslim Judicial Council (SA) noted that he was a critical and moral voice during the struggle and even post-apartheid democracy, taking up issues relating to Islam. About 10 years ago, when the African National Congress government was accused of corruption, Archbishop Desmond Tutu lashed out at the establishment.

The ANC regime was worse than the apartheid one — it was disgraceful, he said. The much-revered South African leader was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He is survived by his wife Leah Nomalizo Shenaxne, who he married in 1955.

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