Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu


The name Desmond Tutu resonates strongly with people all around the world. While his vigorous anti-apartheid activism in his native South Africa first propelled him into the glare of international news media, today he is revered as a “moral voice” to end poverty and human rights abuses. While he is an Anglican Archbishop emeritus and steadfast in his religious beliefs, Desmond Tutu places great value on religious inclusiveness and interfaith dialogue.


Born in Klerksdorp, near Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1931, Desmond Tutu initially followed his father’s example and obtained teaching qualifications. However, following the introduction of Bantu education in 1958, he decided to enter the ministry. He was ordained in Johannesburg three years later.


Following further theological studies at King’s College in London, Desmond Tutu held several positions in teaching and theological work in southern Africa. In 1978, he was persuaded to leave his job as Bishop of Lesotho to become the new General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). In this position, which he held until 1985, Desmond Tutu became a national and international figure.


The SACC was committed to fulfilling the social responsibility of the Church, and as its chairperson, Desmond Tutu led a formidable crusade in support of justice and racial conciliation in South Africa. His tireless work was recognized in 1984, when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Then, following a short stint as the Bishop of Johannesburg, Tutu was elected Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986, an office he held until his retirement in 1996.


While many of Desmond Tutu’s critics predicted that he would enter government, he never did. Instead, he became a key mediator in the difficult transition toward democracy.


In 1995, he was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a body set-up to probe gross human rights violations during apartheid. His policy of forgiveness and reconciliation has become an international example of conflict resolution and a trusted method of post-conflict reconstruction. He continues to pursue an active international ministry for peace.


In recent years Desmond 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.


Archbishop Tutu has held several distinguished academic and world leadership posts. He was elected Fellow of Kings College; President of the All Africa Conference of Churches, London; Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape; the William R. Cannon Professor of Theology at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta; Visiting Professor at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Visiting Scholar in Residence at the University of North Florida, Jacksonville; and Visiting Professor of Post-Conflict Studies at Kings College.


Archbishop Tutu serves as the chair of The Elders, a group of leaders comprising former heads of state, Nobel laureates, leading entrepreneurs, and philanthropists who will “contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems.” Nelson Mandela announced the formation of this new group on the occasion of his 89th birthday, July 18, 2007.


Archbishop Tutu holds honorary degrees from over one hundred and thirty universities, including Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, Yale, Emory, the Ruhr, Kent, Aberdeen, Sydney, Fribourg (Switzerland), Cape Town, Witwatersrand, and the University of South Africa.


He has received many prizes and awards in addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, most notably the Order for Meritorious Service Award (Gold) presented by President Mandela; the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Award for Outstanding Service to the Anglican Communion; the Prix d’Athene (Onassis Foundation); the Family of Man Gold Medal Award; the Mexican Order of the Aztec Medal (Insignia Grade); the Martin Luther King Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize; the Sydney Peace Prize; and, in January 2007, the Gandhi Peace Prize. He has published several books, including No Future Without Forgiveness and God Has a Dream.


Desmond Tutu joined the Advisory Board of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence at James Madison University in 2005.


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