Receiving the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize
Tutu has also been critical in raising awareness of various diseases, such as AIDS, TB and malaria. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for his struggles against the apartheid rule in South Africa, which was characterized by segregation between the black and white races. The apartheid policy also resulted in oppression of black South Africans through the provision of poor services, denial of basic rights and disfranchisement to the right to vote.
Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born in South Africa, Transvaal. His parents moved to Johannesburg when he was 12 years old; his father was a teacher, while his mother worked as a house help, dealing with cleaning and cooking. One of the incidents which shaped Desmond’s life was an experience of seeing a white priest by the name of Trevor Huddleston who took his hat off while greeting Desmond's mother. This left a profound impression on Desmond, and was instrumental in his decision to join the priesthood.
According to Desmond, he could not believe his eyes when he saw a white man greeting a black person with such respect. Although Desmond initially wanted to be a doctor, his parents could not afford the cost of training, and this forced him to pursue the teaching profession.
Studying to be a Theologian
He studied at Bantu Normal College in Pretoria from 1951 to 1953, after which he joined Johannesburg Bantu High. However, Desmond left the teaching profession after the passage of the “Bantu Education Act,” which resulted in very poor learning conditions for black South Africans. Tutu resigned in protest of the poor education standards, and later joined the St. Peter’s Theology College in Johannesburg to study Theology.
He was soon ordained as an Anglican priest. After his ordination, Tutu moved on to King’s College London in 1962, where he received a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Theology in 1966. To support himself in the meantime, he worked as a part-time curator at St.Alban’s Church and St. Mary’s Church.
Bothered by the Apartheid
After completing his studies, he returned to South Africa in the late 1960s and worked as a lecturer at various institutions. He was particularly concerned with the plight of black South Africans, who suffered from oppression due to the apartheid policy. The apartheid policy propagated racial segregation of the races, with each race having their own public utilities, schools and transportation systems. During the apartheid, the black people had the worst living conditions, which were characterized by poverty exacerbated by the white minority government’s policies.
According to Desmond Tutu, the South Africa’s situation was a “powder barrel that can explode at any time” as he wrote in a letter to then-British Prime Minister B. J. Vorster. Desmond Tutu then became more enmeshed in activism when he was made the chaplain of the University of Fort Hare, one of the best universities for black South Africans.
The university offered an opportunity for leaders such as Tutu to promote awareness of Africans’ plight, backed by a large number of politically-aware groups of black African students. Tutu also lectured at the University of Lesotho before proceeding to the United Kingdom, where he was appointed as Vice Director of the World Council of Churches at Kent. He later returned to South Africa, where he was appointed Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral Johannesburg, and was the first black African to hold the position.
Making Apartheid History
During the Soweto Riots in 1976, which were meant to oppose the introduction of the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in all schools, Desmond Tutu played a key role in the protest. He also supported various economic boycotts which were meant to weaken the government’s source of revenue, thereby forcing it to abandon the policy.
Apart from his active role in local politics in South Africa, he also engaged in international diplomacy. For instance, he opposed the United States policy of “constructive engagement,” which was championed by President Reagan. Tutu supported disinvestment policy, which was criticized because it drove black South Africans out of work, resulting in more poverty because major companies pulled their investments from South Africa.
Career Facts Chronicled
In 1976, Tutu was appointed Secretary General of the South African Council of Churches. While serving the position, he continued his fight against the apartheid policy by mobilizing as many churches as he could. He was briefly detained in 1980, and the government cancelled his passport several times.
He compared the apartheid policy to Nazism and even Communism. However, he also opposed the violence used by [some] black South Africans to obtain justice; he was particularly against the use of force by the African National Congress through its Militant wing. As he denounced terrorism and communism, his ability to oppose all forms of violence by any race made Tutu stand out from other political activists.
In 1990, Desmond Tutu and Professor Jakes Gerwel founded the “Desmond Tutu Educational Trust,” which aimed to provide funds to help beneficiaries attend programs in tertiary education. This enabled black South Africans to find more meaningful employment in industries and other institutions.
Heading the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”
After the fall of the apartheid rule, Desmond was appointed to head the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” which was meant to carry out investigations of the atrocities committed by both black and white people. The perpetrators were to repent for their sins, regardless of their positions in government rule or the party hierarchy. The victims were also to accept the apology of the perpetrators after the disclosure of all facts surrounding the cases.
This went a long way in helping South Africans reconcile with one another, especially when the black majority had taken hold of the government for the first time under the leadership of President Nelson Mandela. The reconciliation was very important because the white minority feared that the blacks would seek vengeance for the oppression they suffered during the apartheid.
In 1996, Tutu retired as the Archbishop of Cape Town, but was made its “emeritus Archbishop,” which is conferred only to leaders with exemplary or outstanding performance during their service. The title is rarely conferred in the Anglican Church.
Advocate of the “Rainbow Nation” and Children’s Rights
Desmond is a good orator and a compelling public speaker. He is credited for coining the term “Rainbow Nation,” which he used to describe the ethnic diversity of South Africa. Like the rainbow, Desmond had the idea that, despite their differences in color, all South Africans could still live in harmony with one another.
Though retired, Archbishop Desmond Tutu continued to play an important role in international and local politics on various matters of freedom, democracy and human rights. He, for instance, led a very successful campaign by “Plan International,” a non-government organization, to address child trafficking.
Quote about Desmond Tutu from Mandela
Tutu is also a patron of a charity organization called “Link Community Development,” which aims to improve education standards around the world, especially in Africa.
He has played a key role in the post-apartheid era by criticizing the African National Congress for its failure to tackle widespread poverty and the rise of corruption in the government. According to Nelson Mandela, “Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of the voiceless.”
Given his critique of the government, he has faced stiff opposition and been accused of having “selective amnesia” for selecting some people to criticize while supposedly turning a blind eye to others. He has also been accused of easily forgiving the apartheid rule under the white minority, despite the serious atrocities committed by its rulers.
Lashing at Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma
One of the harshest critiques was in his address on 23 November 2004 during the annual Nelson Mandela Foundation event, “Look to the Rock from which you were Hewn.” They criticized the failure of the ANC-led government to effectively fight corruption and end poverty among the majority of black South Africans. Former president Thabo Mbeki was called into question on the grounds of “the right to criticize.”
Tutu has also criticized the government’s efforts to boost black economic ownership, as he believes it is only beneficial to the few elite blacks while the majority of the black population remains in dire poverty. According to Tutu, “what is the black empowerment when it seems to benefit not the vast majority but an elite that tends to be recycled.” In addition, he noted that “kowtowing” was also happening within the ANC itself.
In August 2006, Desmond Tutu publicly opposed the candidacy of then-President Jacob Zuma for “moral failings” after Zuma was charged with corruption and sexual crimes. This prompted condemnation from the head of the Congress of South African Students, who condemned Tutu as a “loose cannon” and a “scandalous man.”
Risking Life for his Beliefs
During the “xenophobic violence” in 2008, black South Africans attacked immigrants and refugees from other African countries because they felt that the immigrants were taking their jobs, thus denying them opportunities to work.
Tutu challenged his countrymen against this, noting that other African countries welcomed poor South Africans during the apartheid and even risked being targeted by the South African Defense Force for offering their countries as training grounds for the ANC’s militant wing. He encouraged South Africans to welcome foreigners as they did during the apartheid rule.
Desmond Tutu is currently the chairman of “The Elders,” which is composed of Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Jimmy Carter, Muhammad Yunus and Graca Machel, among others (the late Nelson Mandela had also been part of the group). It was formed to offer global advice on peace, democracy and many other important issues.
The “Desmond Tutu Peace Center”
His crusade inspired him to found the “Desmond Tutu Peace Center.” According to their website, “The Desmond Tutu Peace Centre is a non-profit organisation founded and inspired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah. The Centre is committed to creating a society that nurtures tolerance and understanding amongst all people and is guided by the virtues that the Archbishop himself has identified as essential human values and the building blocks for sustainable peace: Love, Hope, Tolerance and Courage.”
- 21st Century Leaders
- Action Against Hunger
- Artists for a New South Africa
- Desmond Tutu Peace Center
- Elton John AIDS Foundation
- Free The Children
- Free The Slaves
- Girls Not Brides
- Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
- Pencils of Promise
- The Elders
- Treatment Action Campaign
- Ubuntu Education Fund
- Whatever It Takes
- 1978: Made Fellow of King’s College, London.
- 1983: Conferred with “Family of Man Gold Medal Award” and the “Martin Luther King Junior Humanitarian Award”
- 1983: Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo, Norway
- 1988: Made Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape, South Africa
- 1997: Received the “Humanitarian Award” from African Times
- 1989: Received the “Legion d’honneur” from France
- 1999: Received the “Grand Cross of the Order of Merit” of the Federal Republic of Germany and the “Sydney Peace Prize” from Australia
- 2002: Received the “Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award” from Tuff University
- 2003: Received the “Golden Plate Award” from the Academy of Achievement
- 2011: Received the “Global Treasure Award,” Oxford, England
- 2012: Received the “Extraordinary Ibrahim Award” from The Mo Ibrahim Foundation South Africa
- 2013: Received “The Templeton Prize” from The Templeton Foundation
- 1978: Honorary Doctorate of Divinity, General Theological Seminary, USA
- 1978: Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law, University of Kent, England
- 1979: Honorary Doctorate of Laws, Harvard University, USA
- 1981: Honorary Doctorate of Divinity, University of Aberdeen, Scotland
- 1984: Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Howard University, USA
- 1985: Honorary of Doctorate Laws, University of the West Indies
- 1990: Honorary Doctorate, Oxford University, England
- 1993: Honorary Doctorate, Albion College Michigan, USA
- 1998: Honorary Degree, Bishop’s University, Canada
- 1999: Honorary Doctorate of Divinity, University of Cambridge, England
- 1999: Honorary Doctorate, Florida International University, USA
- 2000: Honorary Degree, University of Oklahoma, USA
- 2001: Honorary Degree, Fort Hare University, South Africa
- 2004: Honorary Doctorate of Laws, University of British Columbia, Canada
- 2005: Honorary Doctorate , Ghent University, Belgium
- 2009: Honorary Doctorate, University of Geneva, Switzerland
- 2012: Honorary Doctorate , University of Groningen, Netherlands