The Arch turns 77

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is a
renowned champion for peace.
(Image: Tutu Foundation UK)

The avid cricket supporter with a South
Africa team t-shirt bearing his title.
(Image: Lord’s)

Tutu received a rose named after him
for his 75th birthday in 2006.
(Image: Gardening Eden SA)

Tutu speaking at the 31st German Protestant
Kirchentag held in 2007 in Cologne.
(Image: Wikimedia)

Tutu and actor Brad Pitt on one of the 20
covers of Vanity Fair’s special 2007
Africa edition. Pitt interviewed Tutu for
the magazine. (Image: Vanity Fair)

Team Shosholoza and the Arch at
the helm of the racing yacht.
(Image: America’s Cup)

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
visited the TRC offices in 2007.
(Image: Milton Grant, United Nations)

Tutu paid a visit to Ireland in 2006 to
bestow Archbishop Desmond Tutu Medals
of Recognition on deserving Irish
charitable figures.
(Image: Niall Mellon Township Trust)

Janine Erasmus

South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu turns 77 on 7 October 2008. With his formidable moral authority, balanced by a mischievous smile and often playful demeanour, Tutu has won the respect and admiration of the world.

Since the early days of his career Tutu has been a pioneer in many ways – in 1978 he became the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), he was only the second South African to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace (after Albert Luthuli), and he was the first black cleric to be ordained South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

The son of a school teacher, Tutu wished to become a doctor but his parents were unable to afford the fees. The young churchman-to-be therefore followed in his father’s footsteps and trained at the Bantu Normal College in Pretoria, graduating in 1953 with a teaching diploma, followed by a BA in 1954 from the University of South Africa.

Tutu’s teaching career lasted only a few years before he took up theology studies and enrolled in 1958 in St. Peters Theological College in Johannesburg, receiving his ordination in 1960. His outrage at the Bantu Education Act of 1953 and the ensuing bleak outlook for black education in South Africa, prompted him to make the change.

Tutu has never attributed this decision to any higher calling or vocation, but said simply that “if the Church would have me, the profession of priest could be a good way of serving my people”.

In the meantime he married Nomalizo Leah Shenxane. The couple have four children – one of his daughters, Naomi, followed in her father’s humanitarian footsteps by establishing the Tutu Foundation for Development and Relief in Southern Africa. Another daughter, Mpho, has taken up Tutu’s religious cause and in 2004 was ordained an Episcopal priest by her father.

Between 1962 and 1966 Tutu studied towards a Master of Theology in the UK while working as a part-time curate at St Alban’s. Returning to South Africa in 1867, he taught theology for five years, first at the University of Fort Hare and then the National University of Lesotho, before going back to the UK for a stint as assistant director of the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches.

He became the first black cleric to take up the position of Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg in 1975, and then was Bishop of Lesotho from 1976 to 1978 before his appointment to the SACC. It was during this latter period that he rose to national and international prominence, working energetically against apartheid while steadfastly calling for reconciliation. His rising spiritual and moral authority helped sound the death knell for apartheid.

Tutu held the position of SACC General Secretary until 1985, a tenure that included his Nobel Peace Prize, and was elected as the first black Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986. He retired from this position in 1996 but now serves as Archbishop Emeritus.

Peaceful protest

Always an outspoken critic of apartheid, but never an inflammatory one, Tutu decided to step up the pace and press for an economic boycott of South Africa by overseas countries after the Soweto Riots of June 1976, when black schoolchildren, protesting bravely against government’s decree that Afrikaans and English would be the only languages of education in black schools, marched to Orlando Stadium to attend a rally. The first shot was fired by a member of the police after children reportedly began throwing stones. Panic broke out and by the end of the day 23 people were dead. The violence continued during the days that followed and, while reports vary, up to 600 lives were eventually claimed.

Tutu’s rationale was that although an economic boycott would hurt the poor hardest of all, they would at least be suffering with a purpose. It took over a decade but eventually his efforts were rewarded.

After the fall of apartheid new president Nelson Mandela authorised the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to probe the effects of apartheid, and so help redress the wrongs perpetrated. Tutu was appointed chair of the commission, which presented its final report in 1998 and condemned both sides for atrocities committed.

Tutu himself said he was appalled by the evil uncovered during the process – and many South Africans will recall the sight of the archbishop, overcome by grief, bowed over and publicly weeping with his head on his arms.

International recognition

Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his tireless anti-apartheid efforts. The Nobel Committee lauded him for his determination in seeking a solution based on peace.

“It is with admiration and humility we today present the Nobel Peace Prize to this man,” said Egil Aarvik, then chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. “Desmond Tutu’s contribution to the liberation struggle was given a special significance in 1978 when he became the first black secretary of the South African Council of Churches. As the dynamic leader of this Council, Tutu has formulated as his goal ‘a democratic and just society without racial segregation’.”

Aarvik went on to say that although his first instinct, on presentation of the prize, was to express his sorrow to Tutu for the injustices committed in South Africa, “The dominating feeling is, however, one of thankfulness and respectful joy, and this is because we feel ourselves united with him in the belief in the creative power of love. With his warm-hearted Christian faith he is a representative of the best in us all.”

Tireless work

Today the Arch, as he is fondly known, is an honorary doctor of many leading international universities, including those of Kent, Harvard, Columbia, Aberdeen and Ruhr. As an author he has published seven books and collections of sermons, co-authored a number of others, and his authorised biography Rabble Rouser for Peace was published in 2006.

Together with his wife Leah he is also in great demand as patron of any number of organisations and associations, including Cape Town Child Welfare, Team Shosholoza, South Africa’s entry in the Americas Cup, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, the Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement at Stellenbosch University’s business school – and Braai4Heritage, an initiative set up to encourage all South Africans to celebrate their heritage by braaing (barbecuing) on National Heritage Day, 24 September, which is also National Braai Day.

Following his 1997 diagnosis with, and successful treatment of, prostate cancer, Tutu became patron of the South African Prostate Cancer Foundation, as well as the Hospice Association of Southern Africa.

The Arch campaigns tirelessly not only for human rights but also against AIDS, poverty, racism and inequality. In 1990 he and former Vice Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape Professor Jakes Gerwel established the Desmond Tutu Educational Trust to fund developmental programmes in tertiary education. In 2003 the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre and the Desmond Tutu TB Centre were established in the Western Cape.

Tutu has been showered with awards and honours from all over the world. He was the first recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986, the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award in 1984, former president Nelson Mandela’s Order for Meritorious Service in 1996, the Sydney Peace Prize in 1999, and the Gandhi Peace Award in 2005, among many others.

Widely known as a cricket fan, in June 2008 he delivered the annual MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture at the famous Lord’s cricket ground in the UK, becoming the first lecturer to be invited from outside the international cricket circle.

The fearless cleric is still an outspoken critic of the shortcomings of those in power, and does not hesitate to speak out against the likes of Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe. He has repeatedly criticised the division in the ranks of the ANC. In May 2008 he added his voice to those decrying the xenophobic attacks which claimed a number of lives, saying, “Please forgive us. This is not how we are.”

On the international front, Tutu has taken up a number of causes. He has drawn attention to the plight of victims in Darfur, Sudan, and human rights abuse in Burma, as well as the suffering of Tibetan activists at the hands of the Chinese government. He has also denounced Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, likening it to that of black South Africans under apartheid.

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