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Desmond Tutu

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Rabble-rouser for Peace: The Authorised Biography of Desmond Tutu

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The Most Reverend Desmond Mpilo Tutu (born 7 October 1931) is a South African cleric and activist who rose to worldwide fame during the 1980s as an opponent of apartheid. Tutu was elected and ordained the first black South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, and primate of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, South Africa's church body comprising the worldwide Anglican Communion. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

He was generally credited with coining the term Rainbow Nation as a metaphor to describe post-apartheid South Africa after 1994 under ANC rule. The expression has since entered mainstream consciousness to describe South Africa's ethnic diversity.


Born in Klerksdorp, Transvaal, Tutu moved with his family to Johannesburg at the age of 12. Although he wanted to become a physician, his family could not afford the training and he followed his father's footsteps into teaching. Tutu studied at the Pretoria Bantu Normal College from 1951 through 1953. Tutu went on to teach at Johannesburg Bantu High School where he remained until 1957; he resigned following the passage of the Bantu Education Act, protesting the poor educational prospects for black South Africans. He continued his studies, this time in theology, and in 1960 was ordained as an Anglican priest. He became chaplain at the University of Fort Hare, a hotbed of dissent and one of the few quality universities for black students in the southern part of Africa.

Desmond Tutu speaking on UNICEF Broadcast

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Tutu left his post as chaplain and travelled to King's College London, (1962–1966), where he received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Theology. He returned to South Africa and from 1967 until 1972 used his lectures to highlight the circumstances of the black population. He wrote a letter to Prime Minister Vorster, in which he described the situation in South Africa as a "powder barrel that can explode at any time." The letter was never answered.

In 1972 Tutu returned to the UK, where he was appointed vice-director of the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches, at Bromley in Kent. He returned to South Africa in 1975 and was appointed Anglican Dean of Johannesburg—the first black person to hold that position.

He has been married to Leah Nomalizo Tutu since 1955. They have four children: Trevor Thamsanqa, Theresa Thandeka, Naomi Nontombi and Mpho Andrea, all of whom attended the famous Waterford Kamhlaba School.

In 1996, Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

In 2000 Tutu received a L.H.D. from Bates College and in 2005, Tutu received an honorary degree from the University of North Florida, one of the many universities in North America and Europe where he has taught. He visited a school at that time, Twin Lakes Academy Elementary School, and spoke to a class of 3rd graders about his work.

In 2005, Tutu was named a Doctor of Humane Letters at Fordham University in The Bronx. He was also awarded Honorary Patronage of the University Philosophical Society by John Hume another Honorary Patron of the Society and fellow Nobel laureate.

In 2006, Tutu was named a Doctor of Public Service at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where he was also the commencement speaker. He was awarded the Light of Truth award along with Tintin by the Dalai Lama for their contribution towards public understanding of Tibet.[1]

In 2007, Tutu will travel for 100 days with college students in the Semester at Sea program through the University of Virginia.

Public Domain

Political work

In 1976 protests in Soweto, also known as the Soweto Riots, against the government's use of Afrikaans as a compulsory medium of instruction in black schools became a massive uprising against apartheid. From then on Tutu supported an economic boycott of his country.

Desmond Tutu was Bishop of Lesotho from 1976 until 1978, when he became Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches. From this position, he was able to continue his work against apartheid with agreement from nearly all churches. Tutu consistently advocated reconciliation between all parties involved in apartheid through his writings and lectures at home and abroad. Though he was most firm in denouncing South Africa's white-ruled government, Tutu was also harsh in his criticism of the violent tactics of some anti-apartheid groups such as the African National Congress and denounced terrorism and Communism.

On 16 October 1984, Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee cited his "role as a unifying leader figure in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa."[2]

Tutu became the first black person to lead the Anglican Church in South Africa on 7 September 1986. In 1989 Tutu was invited to Birmingham, United Kingdom, as part of Citywide Christian Celebrations. Tutu and his wife visited a number of establishments including Nelson Mandela School in Sparkbrook.

After the fall of apartheid, he headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for which he was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in 1999.

In 2004, Tutu returned to the UK as Visiting Professor in Post-Conflict Societies at King's College and gave the Commemoration Oration, as part of the College's 175th anniversary. He also visited the students' union nightclub, named "Tutu's" in his honour and featuring a rare bust of his likeness.

On 17 March 2004 Tutu visited Marymount to accept Marymount University's 2004 Ethics Award.

Political views

Tutu believes the treatment of Palestinians by the Jewish state of Israel is a form of apartheid.[3] [4] He is quoted as saying "Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon?"[5] Tutu has also urged divestment from Israel in protest at its policies towards the Palestinians. In 2003 he was made patron of the Palestinian Christian Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center located in Jerusalem.[6] His remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have attracted widespread comment. [7] [8] [9]

The Nobel laureate also has expressed support for the West Papuan independence movement, criticizing the United Nations' role in the takeover of West Papua by Indonesia. Tutu said: "For many years the people of South Africa suffered under the yoke of oppression and apartheid. Many people continue to suffer brutal oppression, where their fundamental dignity as human beings is denied. One such people is the people of West Papua."

Tutu has also criticised human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, calling Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe a "caricature of an African dictator", and criticising the South African government's policy of quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe.

He warned of corruption shortly after the election of the African National Congress government of South Africa, saying that they "stopped the gravy train just long enough to get on themselves".[10]

In June 1999, Tutu was invited to give the annual Wilberforce Lecture in Kingston upon Hull, commemorating the life and achievements of the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce. Tutu used the occasion to praise the people of the city for their traditional support of freedom and for standing with the people of South Africa in their fight against apartheid. He was also presented with the freedom of the city.

In the debate about Anglican views of homosexuality he has opposed Christian discrimination against homosexuality. Commenting days after the 5 August 2003 election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man to be a bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, Desmond Tutu said, "In our Church here in South Africa, that doesn't make a difference. We just say that at the moment, we believe that they should remain celibate and we don't see what the fuss is about."[11]

In January 2005, Tutu commented on this question, and added his voice to the growing dissent over terrorist suspects held at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, referring to detentions without trial as "utterly unacceptable."

Declared Tutu: "I am deeply saddened at a time when we've got such huge problems ... that we should invest so much time and energy in this issue...I think God is weeping."
"Jesus did not say, 'I if I be lifted up I will draw some'," Tutu said, preaching in two morning festival services in Pasadena, California. "Jesus said, 'If I be lifted up I will draw all, all, all, all, all. Black, white, yellow, rich, poor, clever, not so clever, beautiful, not so beautiful. It's one of the most radical things. All, all, all, all, all, all, all, all. All belong. Gay, lesbian, so-called straight. All, all are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go. All."
He continued: "Isn't it sad, that in a time when we face so many devastating problems – poverty, HIV/AIDS, war and conflict – that in our Communion we should be investing so much time and energy on disagreement about sexual orientation?"
Tutu said the Communion, which "used to be known for embodying the attribute of comprehensiveness, of inclusiveness, where we were meant to accommodate all and diverse views, saying we may differ in our theology but we belong together as sisters and brothers" now seems "hell-bent on excommunicating one another. God must look on and God must weep."[12]

On 20 April 2005, following the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, Tutu said he was sad that The Roman Catholic Church was unlikely to change its opposition to condoms amidst the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa: "We would have hoped for someone more open to the more recent developments in the world, the whole question of the ministry of women and a more reasonable position with regards to condoms and HIV/AIDS."[13]

In February 2006 Desmond Tutu took part in the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil. There he manifested his commitment to ecumenism and praised the efforts of Christian churches to promote dialogue in order to diminish their differences. For Desmond, "a united church is no optional extra".

In August 2006 Archbishop Tutu publicly urged Jacob Zuma, the South African politician who'd been accused of sexual crimes and corruption, to drop out of the ANC's presidential succession race. Zuma's personal advisor responded by accusing Tutu of having double standards and "selective amnesia" (as well as being old). Tutu and Zuma’s public criticism of each other are reflections of a turbulent time in South African politics.[14]


  1. ^ Dalai Lama to honour Tutu, Tintin. The Star (South Africa) (2006-05-22). Retrieved on 2006-05-26.
  2. ^ Norwegian Nobel Committee. The Nobel Peace Prize for 1984. Press release. Retrieved on 2006-05-26.
  3. ^ "Apartheid in the Holy Land", Guardian Unlimited, 2002-04-29. Retrieved on 2006-05-26.
  4. ^ "Tutu condemns Israeli 'apartheid'", BBC News, 2002-04-29. Retrieved on 2006-05-26.
  5. ^ The Guardian "Apartheid in the Holy Land"
  6. ^ Tutu, Desmond. Letter to the Friends of Sabeel. Retrieved on 2006-05-26.
  7. ^ Praying for Nazis, Scolding Their Victims. Archbishop Tutu's Christmas Message by Edward Alexander (IMRA Newsletter, Originally published in Seattle Times, 18 January 1990). Accessed August 19, 2006
  8. ^ Tutu Compares Israel To Hitler, Blasts "Jewish Lobby" Morton A. Klein, Zionist Organization of America. 29 April 2002. Accessed 19 August 2006
  9. ^ UPenn's Commencement Speaker is an Anti-Semitic Leftist by Morton A. Klein, Zionist Organization of America. 7 April 2003. ( Accessed 19 August 2006
  10. ^ WGBH, date unknown. Interview with Tutu by John Carlin, for PBS Frontline. Retrieved on 7 September 2006.
  11. ^ Desmond Tutu: gay bishop row is just "fuss". UK (2006-08-11). Retrieved on 2006-05-26."
  12. ^ "Tutu calls on Anglicans to accept gay bishop", Spero News, 2005-11-14. Retrieved on 2006-05-26.
  13. ^ "Africans hail conservative Pope", BBC News, 2005-04-20. Retrieved on 2006-05-26.
  14. ^ "Zuma camp lashes out at 'old' Tutu", 2006-09-01. Retrieved on 2006-09-01.



Tutu is the author of seven collections of sermons and other writings:

  • Crying in the Wilderness (1982)
  • Hope and Suffering: Sermons and Speeches (1983)
  • The Words of Desmond Tutu (1989)
  • The Rainbow People of God (1994)
  • The Essential Desmond Tutu (1997)
  • No Future without Forgiveness (1999)
  • God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time (2004)


  • Shirley du Boulay, Tutu: Voice of the Voiceless (Eerdmans, 1988).
  • Michael Battle, Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu (Pilgrim Press, 1997).
  • Steven D. Gish, Desmond Tutu: A Biography (Greenwood, 2004).
  • David Hein, "Bishop Tutu's Christology." Cross Currents 34 (1984): 492-99.
  • David Hein, "Religion and Politics in South Africa." Modern Age 31 (1987): 21-30.


  • "We received death threats, yes, but you see, when you are in a struggle, there are going to have to be casualties, and why should you be exempt?"
  • "You can't put a money value on freedom."

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