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In recognition of his strong leadership as an advocate for human rights and global health, as well as his campaigning against poverty, racism and sexism
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu, a Nobel Peace Laureate, is one of the greatest living moral icons of our time, and a key role player in the fi ght against apartheid in South Africa.
In 1975, Tutu took up a post as the first Black Anglican Dean of Johannesburg, South Africa, and the Rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish in Johannesburg. Here he brought about changes, at times to the chagrin of some his white parishioners.
In 1976, Tutu was persuaded to accept the position of Bishop of Lesotho; by 1978, South Africa was in turmoil, and Tutu assumed the post of General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). It was in this position that he became both a national and international fi gure. Justice and reconciliation and an end to apartheid were the SACC’s priorities, and as General Secretary, Tutu pursued these goals with vigor and commitment. Under his guidance, the SACC became an important institution in South African spiritual and political life, challenging white society and the government and affording assistance to the victims of apartheid.
Tutu passionately spoke out against the injustices of the apartheid system. For several years he was denied a passport to travel abroad as the South African Government continued to persecute him. In September 1982, after eighteen months without a passport, he was issued with a limited ‘travel document’ which allowed him and his wife to travel to America. There he was able to educate Americans about Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. In 1983, he was elected Patron of the United Democratic Front (UDF), one of the most important non-racial anti-apartheid organizations.
In 1984, Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his untiring effort in calling for an end to White minority rule in South Africa, the unbanning of liberation organizations and the release of political prisoners. While several Black South Africans celebrated this prestigious award, the Government was silent, not even congratulating Tutu on his achievement.
There was mixed reaction from the public with some showering him with praise and others denigrating him. Tutu was elevated to Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986, and in this capacity he did much to bridge the chasm between black and white Anglicans in South Africa.
As Archbishop, Tutu became a principal mediator and conciliator in the transition to democracy in South Africa. He urged foreign disinvestment in South Africa as a way to pressurize the government to dismantle apartheid, and was the focus of harassment by the security police as a result. Like murdered activist Steve Biko, he also urged civil disobedience. It led to events such as the “purple rain” protest in Cape Town in 1989.
Following his appointment as State President, FW De Klerk on February 2, 1990 unbanned the African National Congress and other political parties, and announced plans to release Nelson Mandela from prison.
Following the elections in 1994 that made Nelson Mandela South Africa’s first democratically elected president, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up to bear witness to, record and in some cases, grant amnesty to perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations. President Mandela asked Tutu to chair the TRC. Public hearings of the Human Rights Violations Committee and the Amnesty Committee were held at a number of venues around South Africa. The hearings were often harrowing and emotional, conveying the toll that apartheid took on all sides of the liberation struggle.
He retired from the Church in 1996 to focus solely on the TRC, and was later named Archbishop Emeritus. On October 28, 1998 the Commission presented its report, which condemned both sides for their atrocities. The TRC has become a model for a number of similar post-conflict procedures around the world.
Tutu continues to speak out on moral and political issues affecting South Africa and other countries. Today he is regarded as an elder world statesman with a major role to play in reconciliation, and as a leading moral voice.
He has become an icon of hope far beyond the Church and Southern Africa. In recent years, Tutu has turned his attention to a different cause: the campaign against HIV/AIDS. The Archbishop has made appearances around the globe to help raise awareness of the disease and its tragic consequences in human lives and suffering.
Tutu is chairman of the Elders, an independent group of influential people chosen for their outstanding integrity, courage and proven ability to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems. The Elders because of their varied backgrounds use their collective skills to catalyze peaceful resolutions to conflict areas and address global issues that cause immense human suffering.
Tutu officially retired from public life in October 2010. However, he continues with his involvement with the Elders and his support of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre.