Johannesburg: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s revered anti-apartheid icon who won the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting racial segregation and discrimination enforced by the white minority government against the black majority in the country, died on Sunday. He was 90.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that Tutu passed away in Cape Town in the early hours of Sunday. He was the last surviving South African laureate of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize.
Tutu, who previously survived tuberculosis, had undergone surgery for prostate cancer in 1997. He was also hospitalized several times in recent years for various ailments.
A contemporary of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, Tutu, known affectionately as “the Arch”, was one of the driving forces behind the movement to end the policy of racial segregation and discrimination enforced by the white minority government against the black majority in South Africa from 1948 until 1991.
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“The passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa,” Ramaphosa said as he shared condolence with the family and friends.
“Desmond Tutu was a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead.
“A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice, and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world,” Ramaphosa, also president of the ruling African National Congress, said.
He also lauded Tutu for his role in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where he was often driven to tears as victims of apartheid shared their inhumane treatment at the hands of apartheid-ear security forces.
Ordained as a priest in 1960, Tutu went on to serve as bishop of Lesotho from 1976-78, assistant bishop of Johannesburg and rector of a parish in Soweto. He became Bishop of Johannesburg in 1985 and was appointed the first black Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986.
Then newly-elected president Mandela had appointed Tutu to lead the Commission in 1995.
“As Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he articulated the universal outrage at the ravages of apartheid and touchingly and profoundly demonstrated the depth of meaning of ubuntu, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
“We pray that Archbishop Tutu’s soul will rest in peace but that his spirit will stand sentry over the future of our nation,” Ramaphosa said in his statement.
Paying tributes to Tutu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that he was a guiding light for countless people globally and his emphasis on human dignity and equality will be forever remembered.
Modi said: “Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was a guiding light for countless people globally. His emphasis on human dignity and equality will be forever remembered. I am deeply saddened by his demise and extend my heartfelt condolences to all his admirers. May his soul rest in peace.”
Former US President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Obama called Tutu a “mentor, a friend, and a moral compass” in a statement.
“Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere. He never lost his impish sense of humour and willingness to find humanity in his adversaries,” said Obama, who was the first black American president.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tutu will be remembered for his spiritual leadership and irrepressible good humour.
Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 when he was still the Bishop of Johannesburg.
Referring to Tutu as “Africa’s Peace Bishop”, the Norwegian Nobel Institute said Tutu’s award was made “for his role as a unifying leader figure in the non-violent campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa.”
“Tutu was saluted by the Nobel Committee for his clear views and his fearless stance, characteristics which had made him a unifying symbol for all African freedom fighters. Attention was once again directed at the nonviolent path to liberation.
“Despite bloody violations committed against the black population, as in the Sharpeville massacre of 1961 and the Soweto rising in 1976, Tutu adhered to his nonviolent line,” the Institute said on its website.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) recalled Tutu’s relationship with Mandela after the two first met at a debating competition in the early 1950s until they first met again only before Mandela’s release from 27 years as a political prisoner on February 11, 1990.
The minority white apartheid government had thwarted all attempts by Tutu to meet Mandela again in the intervening four decades.
“Mandela’s first night as a free man was spent at the home of the Tutus in Bishopscourt, Cape Town,” NMF Chief Executive Sello Hatang said in a statement.“From then until Mandela passed away in 2013 they were in regular contact and their friendship deepened over time.”
Tutu had in recent years also been an outspoken critic of the looting of state enterprises in what has been identified at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, not sparing the ruling African National Congress (ANC) of which he had been a proud member all his life.
Tutu’s death comes just weeks after that of South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, FW de Klerk, who died at the age of 85.