Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s Conscience, Dies at 90

Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning icon, a foe of apartheid and a modern-day activist for racial justice and LGBTQ rights, died December 26 at age 90. South Africans, world leaders and people around the globe mourned the death of the man viewed as the country’s conscience.

As the first Black bishop of Johannesburg and later as the archbishop of Cape Town, Tutu used his platform to champion human rights at home and around the world.

Tutu’s death “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,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

Nicknamed “the Arch,” Tutu became a towering figure in his nation’s history, comparable to fellow Nobel Prize winner Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first Black president.

Throughout the 1980s — when South Africa was gripped by anti-apartheid violence and a state of emergency gave police and the military extensive powers — Tutu was one of the most prominent Black leaders able to speak out against abuses.

The Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 highlighted his stature as one of the world’s most effective champions for human rights, a responsibility he took seriously for the rest of his life.

Upon becoming president in 1994 after apartheid finally ended, Mandela appointed Tutu to be chairman of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the abuses of apartheid. Mandela called Tutu “the people’s archbishop.”

Tutu also campaigned internationally for human rights, especially LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born October 7, 1931, in Klerksdorp, west of Johannesburg. He was ordained in 1961, and in 1985 became the first Black bishop of Johannesburg. A year later, he was named the first Black archbishop of Cape Town.

A seven-day mourning period is planned in Cape Town before Tutu’s burial. The southern city’s landmark Table Mountain will be lit up in purple, the color of the robes Tutu wore as archbishop.

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