Biographies of Famous South Africans
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Those who have expanded our horizons.
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Desmond Mpilo Tutu
7 October 1931 - ?

Desmond TutuArchbishop Tutu is best known for his belief in the possibility of ultimate interracial harmony - a conviction that becomes a feat when considering his personal history.

In 1962, apartheid reached the church. White academics could no longer teach black clergymen, and black academics were needed to fill the gap. Tutu’s teaching experience, his two degrees, and his conscientiousness made him an ideal candidate for this duty, though he lacked a master’s degree. In order to fill this gap, he left South Africa in 1962 to pursue a master’s degree at King’s College at London University.

He returned to his homeland in 1967 and continued with his mission of teaching black clergy. In 1976, Tutu reached religious prominence and was consecrated as the bishop of Lesotho, an independent enclave within South Africa. The positive events in Tutu’s life were not matched by events at home. A month before his consecration, Soweto, a black community near South Africa’s capital, Johannesburg, exploded in violence as 15,000 schoolchildren took to the streets. They were angry that Afrikaans, instead of English - their typical language of instruction — would be used to teach some of their classes. More than 600 people were killed.

Tutu did not return to South Africa until 1977, when he was asked to speak at the funeral of black activist Steven Biko, who died in police custody. Biko’s death was a turning point for Tutu, and he came to the conclusion that the church had to play a political role if apartheid was to be conquered without bloodshed.

In 1978, he accepted a position as general secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), a 10-year-old organization with a decidedly political bent. The position gave Tutu increased media exposure, and he began to speak on talk shows around the world, pushing for economic sanctions against South Africa. In reaction, the South African government revoked his passport in 1979.

Tutu was just one of many voices in South Africa and abroad that called for sanctions, but his support for them helped legitimize what some considered a radical form of protest. The sanctions, eventually supported by much of the world, had a strong effect on South Africa. By the 1980s, the country’s economy was stagnant due to a critical shortage of investment capital, and diplomatic pressure led to the dismantling of apartheid. In 1982, Tutu’s isolation became a worldwide embarrassment for South Africa, when Columbia University’s president travelled to South Africa to present Tutu with an honorary degree. It was only the third time this precedent had been broken in the famed university’s 244-year history.
 
“Your president is the pits as far as blacks are concerned. I think the West, for my part, can go to hell.” - Desmond Tutu, after U.S. President Ronald Reagan on July 22, 1986 called proposed sanctions against South Africa a “historic act of folly.”

Tutu found himself in the spotlight once again in 1984, when he became South Africa’s second black Nobel Peace laureate. He once more used the increased exposure to push for sanctions. South Africa’s first Nobel peace laureate, 1961 winner Albert Luthuli, had been restricted to his remote Zululand village immediately on his return from Norway. A month after winning the Nobel, Tutu was elected the first black Anglican bishop of Johannesburg. In 1986 Tutu was elected Archbishop of Cape Town, the highest position in the Anglican Church in South Africa.

Archbishop of Cape Town - Desmond TutuNow South Africa’s highest-ranking Anglican cleric, Tutu denounced the White government’s failure to make fundamental changes in apartheid as another wave of violence swept his nation. As the country went into elections in 1989, Tutu boldly engaged in a nationwide defiance campaign, leading a march to a whites-only beach, where he and supporters who were chased off with whips. Soon after, F. W. de Klerk was elected the new president of South Africa on the strength of his pledge to speed reforms and abolish apartheid.

At the end of 1993, de Klerk’s promises came to fruition as South Africa’s first all-race elections were announced. On April 27, 1994 South Africans elected a new president, the country’s most prominent black man, Nelson Mandela, and apartheid was finally over. But Tutu’s job continued. In 1995, he was appointed chair of the South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a group that investigates apartheid-era crimes.

He retired as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996 to devote his full energies to the commission. In 1997, Tutu announced that he would undergo several months of treatment in the United States for prostate cancer. He has continued to work with the commission.

Tutu is generally credited with coining the term "Rainbow Nation" as a metaphor for post-apartheid South Africa after 1994 under African National Congress rule. The expression has since entered mainstream consciousness to describe South Africa's ethnic diversity.

Since his retirement, Tutu has worked as a global activist on issues pertaining to democracy, freedom and human rights. In 2006, Tutu launched a global campaign, organised by Plan, to ensure that all children are registered at birth, as an unregistered child did not officially exist and was vulnerable to traffickers and during disasters. Tutu is the Patron of the educational improvement charity Link Community Development.

Tutu has been vocal in his criticism of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe as well as the South African government's policy of quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe. In 2007 he said the "quiet diplomacy" pursued by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) had "not worked at all" and he called on Britain and the West to pressure SADC, including South Africa, which was chairing talks between President Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, to set firm deadlines for action, with consequences if they were not met.

Tutu has often criticised Robert Mugabe in the past and he once described the autocratic leader as "a cartoon figure of an archetypical African dictator". In 2008, he called for the international community to intervene in Zimbabwe – by force if necessary. Mugabe, on the other hand, has called Tutu an "angry, evil and embittered little bishop".

Tutu wrote to the Chinese government demanding the release of dissident Yang Jianli in 2007. He criticised China for not doing more against the Darfur genocide. During the 2008 Tibetan unrest, Tutu praised the 14th Dalai Lama and said that the government of China should "listen to [his] pleas for... no further violence". He later spoke to a rally calling on heads of states worldwide to not attend the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony "for the sake of the beautiful people of Tibet".

Tutu had announced he would retire from public life when he turned 79 in October 2010, which he did.
 

 
"Instead of growing old gracefully, at home with my family – reading and writing and praying and thinking – too much of my time has been spent at airports and in hotels."


 

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Contact Desmond Tutu:

E-mail: mpilo@iafrica.com

Fax: +27 (21) 552 7529

Postal address: P.O Box 1092
                       Milnerton
                       7435
                       Cape Town



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