Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a human rights defender of the highest order, has left us today. His work confronting the bigotry and violence of South Africa’s apartheid system won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Born in 1931 in Klerksdorf, he graduated from the University of South Africa in 1954 and was ordained as a priest in 1960. He studied and taught in England and South Africa, and in 1975 he was appointed Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg, the first black South African to hold that position. In 1978 he became the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches. Outspoken against the evils of apartheid, he was vilified by friend and foe, press and politicians, yet through his extraordinary patriotism and commitment to humanity, his vision, and ultimately, his faith, he persevered. After South Africa’s first democratic, non-racial elections in 1994, effectively ending eighty years of white minority rule, the new Parliament created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, appointing Tutu as its head to lead his country in an agonizing and unwavering confrontation of the brutality of the past. His faith in the Almighty is exemplified by his belief in the Word made flesh; that the battle for the triumph of good will be won or lost, not by prayers alone, but by actions taken to confront evil here on earth.
From 2007-2013, Archbishop Tutu was the Chair of the Elders, a group of prominent world leaders who contribute their integrity and moral stature to deal with some of the world’s most pressing issues. Other members include Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, and fellow Speak Truth To Power defender Muhammad Yunus.
A quote of his that very much personifies his attitude and work ethic that has always especially impacted us here at RFK Human Rights Spain says the following:
“We have a god who doesn’t say, ‘Ah . . . got you!’
No. God says, ‘Get up.’ and God dusts of off and says, ‘Try again.’”
His tremendous impact over the course of many decades in South Africa is undeniable, and the importance of his teachings over the course of his life is of immense importance the world over. Our work is profoundly inspired in no small part to his own. We will miss him so much, and continue fighting to perpetuate his enormous legacy through helping future generations work toward a more just and peaceful world in which all humanos have the same rights free of discrimination.