Tutu: Activism from the pulpit

As the globe prepares for the funeral of one of the world’s most recognisable clergyman, anti-Apartheid activist and campaigner for peace and justice, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, SAnews takes a look at the life of a man millions affectionately dubbed “The Arch”.

Tutu passed away at the age of 90 in Cape Town and his body is lying in state at the city’s St George’s Cathedral until his funeral on Saturday.

“We share this moment of deep loss with Mam Leah Tutu, the Archbishop’s soulmate and source of strength and insight, who has made a monumental contribution in her own right to our freedom and to the development of our democracy.

“We pray that Archbishop Tutu’s soul will rest in peace but that his spirit will stand sentry over the future of our nation,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the announcement of Tutu’s death.

The early years

Although his is a name now world renowned, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s life had humble beginnings.

He was born in 1931 to a father who was principal of a church-based primary school and a mother who was a domestic worker in Apartheid South Africa.

He was struck by Polio as a child and contracted Tuberculosis in his teenage years – both of which he overcame although with a weakened right hand from the polio and adhesions to the lungs as a result of the TB.

“In his richly inspiring yet challenging life, Desmond Tutu overcame tuberculosis, the brutality of the apartheid security forces and the intransigence of successive apartheid regimes. Neither Casspirs, teargas nor security agents could intimidate him or deter him from his steadfast belief in our liberation,” President Ramaphosa said.

The early adult years

After completing high school, Tutu obtained entrance into Wits Medical School but could not afford tuition fees.

Undeterred by this setback, Tutu chose to study teaching which led to him meeting his wife for the next 66 years, Leah Tutu.

After the then Apartheid government introduced the Bantu Education Act in 1953, Tutu left the profession in protest – paving way for him to enter the clergy.

Tutu then attended the Theology College in Johannesburg, Tutu completed his Honours and Master’s degree from 1962 at King’s College in the United Kingdom.

When he returned to South Africa in 1966, Tutu combined his teaching and theological skills to teach at various Southern African institutions in South Africa, Botswana and Lesotho.

President Ramaphosa highlighted how Tutu sacrificed the pursuance of academic honour in the quest for the freedom of oppressed people.

“He placed his extensive academic achievements at the service of our struggle and at the service of the cause for social and economic justice the world over,” President Ramaphosa said.

Growing dissent

Tutu’s passion for social justice was triggered once more in 1968 when he joined protesting University of Fort Hare students where he witnessed the use of Apartheid state power to suppress Black anger.

By the mid-1970s, Tutu began speaking out against the racist Apartheid regime from the pulpit of the revered St Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg.

Mere weeks before the 1976 uprisings, Tutu wrote a letter to then South African prime minister B.J. Vorster, warning him about imminent turmoil as a result of discontent among Black South Africans.

During the 1980s, Tutu’s voice of opposition of the Apartheid government became louder as he wrote several letters to P.W. Botha denouncing several policies which gave the racist government power to forcibly remove Black people from the areas they lived in.

With these letters falling on deaf ears, The Arch began to rally the international community to take action against the segregationist government.

Tutu played a pivotal role in lobbying countries such as the USA, Canada and France to impose sanctions on Apartheid South Africa; in a bid to force the hand of the Apartheid government to resign power and accept a new and democratic dispensation.

Tutu’s life’s work as a humanitarian earned him a myriad of accolades including the Nobel Peace Prize, the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Fullbright Prize.

“From the pavements of resistance in South Africa to the pulpits of the world’s great cathedrals and places of worship, and the prestigious setting of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Arch distinguished himself as a non-sectarian, inclusive champion of universal human rights,” President Ramaphosa said.

Post 1994 South Africa

When the new democratic dispensation was ushered in, Tutu continued to be a strong voice for the voiceless.

He took on the mantle of Chairperson of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and later became an HIV/Aids activist, a LGBTQIA+ supporter and continued his work for the attainment of universal human rights.

“He remained true to his convictions during our democratic dispensation and maintained his vigour and vigilance as he held leadership and the burgeoning institutions of our democracy to account in his inimitable, inescapable and always fortifying way,” the President said.

Tutu has been afforded a category one special official funeral which will be held at St George’s Cathedral on Saturday.

He will be cremated and his ashes will be interred at the Cathedral.

Source: South African Government News Agency

Government