The Most Rev Desmond Tutu obituary
Add Reply
Steve Hayes
2021-12-31 03:14:39 UTC
The Most Rev Desmond Tutu obituary

Anglican archbishop who fought against apartheid in South Africa and
led the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Sun 26 Dec 2021 13.32 GMT

Last modified on Sun 26 Dec 2021 21.10 GMT

In 1948, when the apartheid regime was voted into office in South
Africa, Desmond Tutu was 17. It was not until the late 1960s, as the
future Anglican archbishop of Cape Town approached 40, that the
concept of black liberation caused him to widen his horizons, and it
was only in the mid-70s that he aligned himself with the liberation

Tutu, who has died aged 90, developed late in this respect because at
first he was wholly a man of the church. He never wanted to enter
politics: “No, I’m not smart enough. I can’t think quickly on my feet.
I also think it’s a very harsh environment. I’m a crybaby … not tough
enough for the hurly-burly of politics,” he claimed, perhaps

Church and state were locked in combat, however, and choices had to be
made. Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists and others condemned apartheid,
while the Dutch Reformed churches in South Africa defended it. When
Tutu became the first black Anglican dean of Johannesburg in 1975 he
was, according to his biographer, Shirley du Boulay, “less politically
aware than one might have expected. His contribution to the liberation
of his people [until then] had been in becoming a good priest.”

Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, a predominantly Afrikaner farming town
100 miles south-west of Johannesburg. His father, Zachariah, a Xhosa,
was headteacher of the local Methodist primary school. His mother,
Aletta, a Mosotho, was a domestic servant. The children were all given
both European and African names and spoke Xhosa, Sotho and Tswana.
Later, Tutu also learned Afrikaans and English. At the age of 14 he
contracted tuberculosis and over the course of 20 months in hospital
he developed a lifelong friendship with Father Trevor Huddleston, the
Anglican missionary priest from Britain who, as one of the most
prominent opponents of apartheid inside and outside South Africa,
became his religious inspiration and mentor.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie shares a joke with Bishop
Desmond Tutu at Lambeth Palace in 1981.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie shares a joke with Bishop
Desmond Tutu at Lambeth Palace in 1981. Photograph: Popperfoto

Tutu obtained a teaching diploma in 1953 and a BA degree by
correspondence a year later. He taught at high schools in Johannesburg
(1954) and Krugersdorp (1955-57), before leaving to train at St
Peter’s theological college, Rosettenville. Ordained a priest in 1961,
he served in an African township.

His entry into the liberation struggle followed the years he spent
abroad. From 1962 until 1966 he was in London, where he secured a
master’s in theology at King’s College. He served as a curate in
Golders Green and at Bletchingley, Surrey, where initially standoffish
Tories took him to their hearts.

After teaching at the Federal Theological Seminary in the town of
Alice in the Eastern Cape province, Tutu went back to Britain from
1972 until 1975 as associate director of the Theological Education
Fund of the World Council of Churches. From 1976 to 1978 he served as
bishop of Lesotho, returning to Johannesburg to take up the
high-profile post of general secretary of the South African Council of
Churches (SACC), from which the pro-apartheid Afrikaans churches had
cut themselves loose.

That appointment effectively marked the end of Tutu’s political
innocence. He had seen the uglier side of Africa, and although his
travels separated him from the struggle in his own country, they also
moulded him, giving him a wider outlook, more self-confidence and a
growing revulsion against race discrimination. In spite of passport
restrictions, in the early 80s Tutu was probably the most travelled
churchman in the world after Pope John Paul II. Britain was always a
sanctuary for him. The turning point on that score, said Tutu, came
when everyone at King’s College London treated him like anyone else.
“So my gratitude to England and my gratitude to King’s is that I have
discovered who I am.”

In more than one sense Tutu became Nelson Mandela’s precursor. Both
men foresaw the inevitability of liberation. Both were sufficiently
above racial issues to know that, ultimately, what mattered (at least
for the transition from apartheid to non-racial rule) would be
reconciliation among South Africa’s races. Once the apartheid
government accepted the inexorability of change, as it began to do in
the 80s, the role of the prophet changed. “Demands for justice are
replaced by demands for reconciliation.”

However outraged they might have been by their experiences under
apartheid, both Tutu and Mandela put their personal feelings aside. In
African terms, both were relatively privileged, Mandela (of Xhosa
royalty) even more than the highly educated Tutu. There were
differences, of course. Tutu was excitable, passionate, easily hurt;
Mandela composed and imperious. In the difficult dying days of
apartheid the media, especially the state-controlled broadcasting
corporation (SABC), demonised Tutu as the man most white South
Africans loved to hate.

But Tutu blazed the trail. When Mandela said the same things 10 years
later, his words sounded fitting; when Tutu uttered them he outraged
even his Anglican brethren. In 1980, he forecast that South Africa
would have a black leader within five to 10 years (it took 14). The
reason why many white people were so venomous was not only that Tutu
told them that tomorrow would not be theirs, but that he did it with
such certainty.

The entertaining, excitable, impish little man was an old-style
prophet, but also one with a dry sense of humour. White people, he
observed, saw him as a politician trying hard to be a bishop, with
“horns under my funny bishop’s hat and my tail tucked away under my
trailing cape”. His wry assessment of the impact of their arrival in
South Africa was: “We had the land and they had the Bible. Then they
said, ‘Let us pray,’ and we closed our eyes. When we opened them
again, they had the land and we had the Bible.”

At times, Tutu was the despair of his friends. Once he said that if
the Russians came to South Africa, they would be welcomed as
liberators. An associate sighed, “He had this habit of going over the
top.” Tutu’s support of international sanctions against South Africa
caused a huge eruption among white people and also in his own church.
Some liberal white South Africans classified Tutu’s Nobel peace prize
in 1984 as foreign interference.

Tutu could never execute the politician’s soft-shoe shuffle. He spoke
his mind, was always his own man, never trendy or fully in the
political mainstream. Initially, he had been drawn to the Black
Consciousness Movement and to American ideas of “black theology”, but
he shifted closer to the United Democratic Front (UDF), the exiled
ANC’s internal surrogate.

Sparing the sensitivities of white Anglicans was scarcely Tutu’s
concern. By the time he arrived at the SACC in March 1978, the
organisation was becoming a microcosm of a future, non-racial South
Africa. Tutu aired his own opinions, sometimes provocatively, on world
affairs. He blasted the Soviet puppet regime in Afghanistan and,
simultaneously, the US for supporting the Contras in Nicaragua and
Israel for bombing Beirut.

One of his more spectacular outbursts was his condemnation as
“nauseating” and “the pits” of a speech by Ronald Reagan in 1988, in
which the US president defended the continued involvement of American
companies in the South African economy. For his part, said Tutu,
“America and the west can go to hell.” Later, in his engaging way, he
half-apologised, saying that perhaps he should have used “less salty
language”. Patrick Buchanan, Reagan’s chief media adviser, snapped
back, “Whatever his moral splendour, the bishop is a political

By then, Tutu was accustomed to storms breaking over his head. In
1979, on a visit to Denmark, he criticised that country’s purchase of
South African coal, thereby signalling his support for sanctions. On
his return to South Africa, he was summoned to a meeting with two
cabinet ministers, who asked him to retract or face possible action,
not only against himself, but against the SACC as well.

However, the organisation rallied, telling the government of PW Botha
that a retraction could constitute a denial of Tutu’s prophetic
calling. It added, though, that it was willing to meet the government
to discuss fundamental reform. It was a turning point in the mighty
church v state conflict that had rocked the country since the 50s. The
Anglican church was flexing its muscles. Tutu advised the government
to stop playing God. During the Christian church’s 2,000-year
existence, he said, tyrants had acted against it, arresting its
followers, killing them, proscribing their faith. “If they take the
SACC and the churches on, let them know they are taking on the Church
of Jesus Christ.”

In 1980, Tutu and fellow clergymen went to Pretoria to meet Botha, six
cabinet ministers and two deputy ministers. It was not an easy
decision. Critics, clergy among them, warned Tutu’s delegation they
were wasting their time, even betraying the struggle. It was Tutu’s
intuitive genius to know when meeting an enemy showed strength rather
than weakness. In 1982, the then archbishop of Canterbury, Robert
Runcie, sent a five-member delegation to South Africa to demonstrate
world support for the SACC – “to make the point [to the apartheid
government] that you are not simply dealing with a domestic matter. If
you touch Desmond Tutu, you touch a world family of Christians.”

Tutu did not meet Botha again until 1986 when, accompanied by the
liberal Afrikaner churchman Beyers Naudé, he was received at the state
president’s official residence in Cape Town. Tutu met Botha on two
further occasions in 1986, around the time the white regime was
starting to meet Mandela secretly in prison. The days of apartheid
were numbered, even though few realised it.

Tutu thus began his ascent in the Anglican church just as it
farsightedly started to adjust to a changing South Africa. Soon after
receiving the Nobel peace prize, he left the SACC to become the first
black bishop of Johannesburg (1985-86). The electoral assembly of the
diocese consisted of 214 delegates – all the clergy plus one layman
from each congregation. The conservative, mostly white, priests
blocked Tutu, while the black priests blocked the election of a white
bishop. Unable to deliver the required two-thirds majority, the
assembly passed the decision to the synod of bishops, who chose the
black candidate.

In April 1986, Tutu was elected to the highest Anglican post in South
Africa as archbishop of Cape Town, and that September was enthroned in
St George’s Cathedral. This was followed by his unanimous election as
head of the All-Africa Conference of Churches at its gathering in

By then Tutu was in the thick of politics. Arrested for taking part in
an illegal march, he was fined, imprisoned for a night and had his
passport withdrawn. When it was returned, the irrepressible prelate
promptly visited the pope, whereupon his passport was temporarily
withdrawn again.

Defying the Botha government, Tutu met the ANC-in-exile at its Zambian
headquarters, where – ever his own man – he informed it that, while he
supported its aim of a non-racial, democratic South Africa, he could
not associate himself with the armed struggle. The ANC at first
refused to end it but later agreed to suspend it.

Tutu had first met Mandela in the 50s, when the latter was an
adjudicator in an inter-school debate in which Tutu was a participant.
He did not see Mandela again until the latter’s release from prison in
1990, although they corresponded while Mandela was a prisoner on
Robben Island. When Tutu received the Nobel prize, the ANC organised a
celebration for him, and on Mandela’s release from prison, he stayed
at Tutu’s official archbishop’s residence in Cape Town.

“With calls coming from all over the world, and even the White House,”
Tutu said, “it was quite impossible to spend time with him. Even then
he was ever gracious with his old-world courtesy ... His regal dignity
is quite humble.” There is just a hint here of the tension that later
affected the relationship.

Tutu recalled that, at a state banquet for the president of Uganda,
the former president FW de Klerk had not been placed at the top table.
Mandela “was genuinely concerned that De Klerk had been treated so
offhandedly”. However, said Tutu, Mandela could also be “horribly
stubborn”. For his part, Mandela remarked, light-heartedly, on the
trouble Tutu had caused him.

Tutu married Leah Nomalizo Shinxani in 1955. They had four children. A
journalist noted many years later: “It’s fair to say that only an
astute, humorous and strong woman could have survived life with Tutu,”
while a close friend said, “I think she has a helluva hard time.
Desmond gives himself so much to everybody that I’m not sure whether
there is a lot left for Leah.”

As the ANC leaders returned from exile and prison, Tutu modestly
withdrew to the wings, returning to his spiritual calling. But Mandela
invited him to take the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission (TRC), with a mandate not to conduct Nuremberg-style
trials, but to effect reconciliation by uncovering “gross violations
of human rights” committed during the apartheid years – by all sides,
including the ANC. It was an offer Tutu could not refuse.

Appointed in December 1995, the TRC delivered its final five-volume
report to Mandela in November 1998. By then Tutu had been receiving
treatment in the US for prostate cancer. His illness had a profound
effect, making him consciously savour his remaining years and turn
away from public life, towards his God and his wife.

The TRC – the climax of Tutu’s career – was both praised and
disparaged. Historians will long debate what it achieved. It could
have investigated an estimated 100,000 violations of human rights,
protracting the hearings endlessly, but it focused on the worst cases,
finding time to listen to mea culpas and semi-apologies from the
business community, the media, churches and others.

For Tutu, the 1997 hearing at which De Klerk refused to accept
political responsibility for the assassinations, kidnappings, torture
and assorted crimes committed by agents of the apartheid state was
traumatic. De Klerk made the extraordinary submission that apartheid
was “a well-intentioned failure” – and that he and his predecessor,
Botha, had presided over two final phases of “reform and
transformation”. It was quite incorrect, De Klerk told the commission,
“to refer to our administrations as the apartheid government. We were
primarily concerned with the dismantling of apartheid.”

Tutu confessed that there were times when his Christian charity was
strained to the limit. He described the white regime’s chemical and
biological warfare programme under Botha as the “most diabolical
aspect of apartheid”. Tutu, however, warmly commended De Klerk’s
speech in February 1990 unbanning liberation movements, and when he
was consulted by the Norwegian Nobel committee for advice on whether
to award a joint peace prize to Mandela and De Klerk in 1993, he
endorsed it.

But, he said later, “had I known then what I know now, I would have
opposed it vehemently”. As for Botha, then in retirement and preparing
to remarry, the TRC was a “circus” and he would not “perform” before
it. Fined for contempt of court, he remained defiant to the end. The
ANC’s response to the TRC report was almost as dismaying for Tutu. The
report recorded that the ANC, in exile beyond South Africa’s borders
for 30 years, had committed gross violations in its detention camps,
torturing and executing suspected informers, rebellious members and
others, and that, even after its unbanning in 1990, it had committed
further crimes, including murder, mainly against black political
opponents. Friends said he was saddened and perplexed by the ferocity
of the criticism of the TRC by the ANC, the white rightwing and some
mainstream liberals.

Tutu saw the party’s attack on the TRC as a betrayal of the ANC’s
finest moral traditions. But he was comforted by the knowledge that
many ANC members and supporters, including Mandela (no longer
president of the ANC though still president of the country when the
TRC report was published), were similarly disturbed by their
organisation’s official response.

This dissent within the ANC prevented a lasting rupture between Tutu,
the country’s “most prominent moral lodestar”, and the ANC. The ANC
applied for an injunction to prevent publication of the TRC’s report
(Mandela dissented), but the court rejected it. It was an inexplicable
blunder by the ANC leadership, and an appalled Tutu exclaimed, “I have
struggled against a tyranny. I did not do this in order to substitute

Having stepped down as archbishop in 1996 Tutu left for the US in
October 1998 to take up a two-year theology professorship at Emory
University in Atlanta. Overwhelmed by invitations to address other
gatherings and institutions across the US, he turned most of them
down, so that he could carry his workload at Emory, pace himself
through his illness and spend more time with Leah. In Atlanta, he
completed his major work, No Future Without Forgiveness, published in
1999, while remaining in close touch with those parts of the TRC that
were still at work.

For all its shortcomings, Tutu’s TRC was an extraordinary episode in
South Africa’s history. Even if it used controversial methods and
failed to deliver universal reconciliation (many white people felt
they were simply in the dock), at least it uncovered much of the
truth. The “gross violations” were a festering sore that had to be
cleansed. Some dozen other countries have conducted their own truth
commissions, but South Africa’s was the most remarkable and, for this
achievement, the archbishop can take his bow before history.

Tutu was credited with coining the term “rainbow nation” for the
non-racial South Africa that he, Mandela and their various supporters
wanted to rise from the ashes of apartheid. On his retirement as
archbishop, Mandela said of Tutu at a service of thanksgiving: “His
joy in our diversity and his spirit of forgiveness are as much part of
his immeasurable contribution to our nation as his passion for justice
and his solidarity with the poor.”

In his final years, remarkably active in the light of his cancer, Tutu
campaigned in many parts of the world for human rights and freedoms,
and was often seen in his beloved London. He announced that he would
retire from public life on his 79th birthday, in October 2010. But the
flow of comments on a wide range of social and political issues
continued unabated.

In 2013 he announced he could no longer vote for the ruling ANC
because of its corruption, inequality and use of violence, and its
failure to tackle violent xenophobia and poverty in the townships. At
the time of his 85th birthday, in 2016, he called for the right to
assisted dying, and in 2020 he joined other faith leaders in calling
for an end to the criminalisation of LGBTQ+ people.

He continued in his advanced years to receive honours and awards from
many countries, and in 2015 he was made a Companion of Honour by

He is survived by Leah, their children, Trevor, Theresa, Naomi and
Mpho, and his sister Gloria.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu, priest, born 7 October 1931; died 26 December 2021

Sanford Manley
2021-12-31 05:52:16 UTC
Post by Steve Hayes
The Most Rev Desmond Tutu obituary
Anglican archbishop who fought against apartheid in South Africa and
led the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Commission
One of the best obituaries I have ever read.
Sanford M. Manley

"Trying to be right all the time
is a very subtle way of being wrong."
Big Mongo
2021-12-31 06:21:54 UTC
I was minding my business
Lifting some lead off
The roof of the Holy Name church
It was worthwhile living a laughable life
To set my eyes on the blistering sight
Of a Vicar in a tutu
He's not strange
He just wants to live his life this way
A scanty bit of a thing
With a decorative ring
That wouldn't cover the head of a goose
As Rose collects the money in a canister
Who comes sliding down the bannister?
A vicar in a tutu
He's not strange
He just wants to live his life this way
The monkish monsignor
With a head full of plaster
Said "My man, get your vile soul dry-cleaned"
As Rose counts the money in the canister
As natural as rain
He dances again
My God!
The Vicar in a tutu
Oh yeah
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
The Vicar in a tutu
Oh yeah
The next day in the pulpit
With freedom and ease
Combatting ignorance, dust, and disease
As Rose counts the money in the canister
As natural as rain
He dances again and again and again
In the fabric of a tutu
Any man could get used to
And I am the living sign