OFM remembers Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

OFM pays tribute to a son of Central South Africa….

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was born on 7 October 1931 in Klerksdorp, in the then Transvaal.

His father was a teacher, and after leaving school, he also trained as a teacher.

On 2 July 1955, Tutu married Nomalizo Leah Shenxane, a teacher whom he had met while at college. The couple had four children.

Three years into working as a high school teacher, he began to study theology, and was ordained as a priest in 1960. By 1966, he qualified as a Master of Theology in England and returned to South Africa to teach others in 1967.

In 1972 he returned to England to take up a position as the assistant director of a theological institute in London.

In 1975 Tutu was appointed Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg, the first black person to hold that position.

From 1976 to 1978 he was Bishop of Lesotho, and in 1978 became the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches.

In 1984, after having been nominated consecutively since 1981, Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in resolving and ending apartheid.

He became Bishop of Johannesburg in 1985 and in 1986 the Archbishop of Cape Town. Tutu was also elected president of the All Africa Conference of Churches.

After President F. W. de Klerk released the anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the pair led negotiations to end apartheid and introduce multi-racial democracy.

He formulated his objective as “a democratic and just society without racial divisions”, and set forward the following points as minimum demands:

1. equal civil rights for all

2. the abolition of South Africa’s passport laws

3. a common system of education

4. the cessation of forced deportation from South Africa to the so-called “homelands”

After the 1994 general election resulted in a coalition government headed by Mandela, the latter selected Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses committed by both pro and anti-apartheid groups.

Desmond Tutu retired as archbishop in 1996.

In January 1997, Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer and travelled abroad for treatment. He publicly revealed his diagnosis, hoping to encourage other men to go for prostate exams. He faced recurrences of the disease in 1999 and 2006.

In 2000, he opened an office in Cape Town and in June of that year, the Cape Town-based Desmond Tutu Peace Centre was launched.

Tutu was also a gay rights activist and spoke out on the need to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

In 2004, the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation, a registered non-profit company established in association with the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, an accredited research centre within the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, was established.

In 2007 when Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu became the national spokesperson, it was called Braai4Heritage and is still unofficially called Braai day.

The idea for Braai Day came from the Braai4Heritage organisation.

In 2005, a media campaign tried to “re-brand” the holiday as National Braai Day “in recognition of the South African culinary tradition of holding informal backyard” braais. The organisation aims to have all South Africans “celebrate their common roots by having a braai (barbecue) on Heritage day.”

In July 2010, Tutu announced his intention to effectively withdraw from public life in October, though he said he would continue his work with the Elders, a group of international leaders he cofounded in 2007 for the promotion of conflict resolution and problem solving throughout the world. On October 7, 2010—his 79th birthday—he began his retirement.

In 2013, the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, was established to represent one of the world’s most iconic leaders, and his life-long partner. The Foundation strives to ensure their uncompromised bravery is celebrated, communicated and curated for posterity.

Tutu has received various honorary doctorates from a number of leading universities in the USA, Britain and Germany.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Tutu was also bestowed numerous awards, including the Pacem in Terris Award, the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award, the Lincoln Leadership Prize and the Gandhi Peace Prize.

Tutu popularised the term "Rainbow Nation" as a metaphor for post-apartheid South Africa after 1994 under ANC rule. He had first used the metaphor in 1989 when he described a multi-racial protest crowd as the "rainbow people of God".

As well as English, Tutu could speak Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, and Xhosa. Tutu was often praised for his public speaking abilities.

Tutu authored or co-authored numerous publications, including The Divine Intention (1982), a collection of his lectures; Hope and Suffering (1983), a collection of his sermons; No Future Without Forgiveness (1999), a memoir from his time as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time (2004), a collection of personal reflections; and Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference (2010), reflections on his beliefs about human nature. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Tutu received numerous honours, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009), an award from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation that recognized his lifelong commitment to “speaking truth to power” (2012), and the Templeton Prize (2013).

Desmond Tutu drew national and international attention to the iniquities of apartheid. He emphasised nonviolent protest and encouraged the application of economic pressure on South Africa.

His legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of South Africans, and he will forever be regarded as a “son of Central South Africa”.

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