Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has announced he is to withdraw from public life. He played a prominent role in South Africa’s struggle against the whites-only apartheid system. After his 79th birthday in October, he said he would reduce his workload to one day a week before retiring. That work would be devoted to The Elders, a group appointed by former President Nelson Mandela to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.
During the 27 years that Mr Mandela was in prison, Archbishop Tutu spoke out against apartheid – and won the Nobel peace prize in 1984 for his efforts. He was chosen by Mr Mandela to chair South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and investigate the crimes committed by all sides during the apartheid regime.
‘Exhilarating and exasperating’
The former Archbishop of Cape Town, the first black cleric to hold that position, said his career highlight was introducing Mr Mandela as South African president in 1994. In a nationally televised news conference from Cape Town, the Anglican cleric described how his schedule had grown more punishing in recent years. “I have been very, very fortunate to have been given opportunities to contribute in a small way to develop our new, democratic, exhilarating and sometimes exasperating nation,” he said. “The time has come to slow down.” He said he wanted to spend more time sipping tea with his wife, watching cricket, or visiting his grandchildren, although he added that he would honour his existing appointments.
Since his retirement as archbishop of Cape Town in 1996, as well as his work with the Elders, the cleric has launched his own peace foundation, advised world leaders and played an active role as a public speaker. Archbishop Tutu spoke at several events during the recent football World Cup in South Africa, which he described as one of the most important events locally since the end of apartheid.
Desmond Tutu was born in 1931 in a small gold-mining town in the Transvaal. He first followed in his father’s footsteps as a teacher, but abandoned that career after the passage of the 1953 Bantu Education Act, which enforced separation of races in all educational institutions.
He joined the Church and was strongly influenced by many white clergymen in the country, especially another strong opponent of apartheid, Bishop Trevor Huddleston.
Desmond Tutu became the first black Anglican Dean of Johannesburg in 1975.
He was already a high-profile Church figure before the 1976 rebellion in black townships, but it was in the months before the Soweto violence that he first became known to white South Africans as a campaigner for reform.
Inevitably, his pleas for justice and reconciliation in South Africa drew him into the political arena – but he always insisted that his motivation was religious, not political. The churchman constantly told the government of the time that its racist approach defied the will of God and for that reason could not succeed.
As the first black head of the Anglican Church in South Africa, he continued to campaign actively against apartheid.
In March 1988, he declared: “We refuse to be treated as the doormat for the government to wipe its jackboots on.” Six months later, he risked jail by calling for a boycott of municipal elections.
Archbishop Tutu warmly welcomed the liberalising reforms announced by President FW De Klerk soon after he took office in 1989. These included the lifting of the ban on the African National Congress and the release of Mr Mandela.
Archbishop Tutu once said:
Be nice to the whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity – October 1984
I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of human rights – January 1985
Your president is the pits as far as blacks are concerned. I think the West, for my part, can go to hell – July 1986, when US President Ronald Reagan opposed sanctions proposals.
At home in South Africa I have sometimes said in big meetings where you have black and white together: “Raise your hands!” Then I have said: “Move your hands,” and I’ve said, “Look at your hands – different colours representing different people. “You are the Rainbow People of God.” – December 1991
Resentment and anger are bad for your blood pressure and your digestion – January 2000
Perpetrators don’t have horns, don’t have tails, they are as ordinary looking as you and I. The people who supported Hitler were not demons, they were often very respectable people – February 2006
Who in their right mind could have believed South Africa could be an example of anything but the most awful ghastliness? We are such an unlikely lot – January 2000
One time I was in San Francisco when a lady rushed up, very warmly greeted me, and said, “Hello Archbishop Mandela.” Sort of getting two for the price of one – March 2004
Source: BBC Africa
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