South African Anglican cleric, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent anti-Apartheid role, chairman of the TRC in late 1990s. Tutu was a powerful moral force in South Africa, and a central figure in the anti-Apartheid struggle.
Date of Birth: 7 October 1931, Makoeteng, Klerksdorp, South Africa
An Early Life
Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born on 7 October 1931, son to Zacheriah Zililo Tutu, a schoolteacher in Klerksdorp, Transvaal. The family moved to Johannesburg when he was twelve, when his mother, Aletta Dorothea Mavoertsek, found work as a cook and cleaner at a mission school for the blind. When Desmond Tutu was 14 he developed tuberculosis, which kept him hospitalized, and out of school for almost two years. Whilst recuperating, Tutu met the person he considered the greatest influence in his life -- Trevor Huddleston. Huddleston was the white, Anglican, parish priest in Sophiatown, and a well known anti-Apartheid activist.
Desmond Tutu had expressed an interest in medicine, but the college fees were far beyond what the family could afford. So, instead, he followed in his fathers footsteps and became a teacher. Tutu attended the Bantu Normal College in Pretoria between 1951 and 53, gaining a teaching certificate. He also followed a correspondence course with the University of South Africa (now UNISA) which gave him a degree in 1954. It was, however, a time of government meddling in black education in South Africa. The Apartheid government had introduced the Bantu Education Act in 1953 which had the aim of preventing black people receiving a level of education which could give them aspirations for positions in society they weren't allowed to hold. Tutu found it increasingly difficult to teach under such regulations, and in 1957 he resigned from his post at Munsieville High School.
Tutu married Nomalizo Leah Shenxane in a church ceremony on 2 July 1955. At first they lived in his parents house in Munsieville, and Leah taught at a local primary school. After a few months they were able to afford the rent for a place of their own. The Tutus attended St. Paul's Church, where Desmond taught Sunday school and was a lay preacher.
A Life With God
After giving up full time teaching, Desmond Tutu turned to the great passion of his life: the church. He began his studies under the Mirfield Fathers, the religious community to which Trevor Huddleston belonged. He then entered the seminary at St. Peters College in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, taking his degree in theology in 1960, and was ordained on 17 December 1961. Tutu was placed as a curate at two parishes: first in Benoni, and then in early 1962, Thokoza. It was an auspicious time in South Africa: Chief Albert Luthuli had just accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, and uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) had targeted a South African government office.
The administration at St. Peters College arranged for Desmond Tutu to continue his studies in England, writing to the dean of King's College, London, citing Desmond Tutu as the best candidate for academic advancement. In 1962 Tutu began his studies for a bachelor of divinity in London, accompanied by his family. Tutu supplemented his income as a curate, fist in Golders Green, North London (which proved to be a rather expensive place to live) and then at St. Mary's parish in Bletchingley, Surrey. Tutu successfully completed his bachelor's degree in 1965, and with an extension of his grant from the Theological Education Fund (part of the International Missionary Council), he stayed at King's College for another year to study for his master's in theology.
Tutu and his family returned to South Africa in the autumn of 1966 and spent the Christmas with their family in the Transvaal. At the start of 1967 they moved to the Eastern Cape, to where St. Peter's College had relocated, becoming part of the Federal Theological Seminary. Tutu's time in the UK had opened his eyes to the injustices of the Apartheid system. (To avoid the strictures of Bantu Education for their own children, the Tutus sent their three children, Trevor, Thandi, and Naomi, to boarding school in Swaziland -- 800 miles away). Desmond Tutu taught theology at St. Peter's and acted as chaplain at nearby Fort Hare University until 1969. Whilst at Fort Hare tutu witnessed violent reprisals by the Apartheid government against black students such as Steve Biko. In 1969 Tutu took a teaching post with the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS) in Roma, Lesotho. Here they were slightly insulated from the worst of Apartheid's excesses, except for those occasions when the family needed to pass through customs points on the border.In 1972 Tutu was offered the post of Africa director of the Theological Education Fund (TEF), organized by the World Council of Churches in London. During his tenure with the TEF Tutu traveled to several African countries, including Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), Nigeria (during the Biafran War), Kenya, Uganda, and Rhodesia. He also visited the US for the first time in 1973. In 1975 Tutu was recalled to South Africa, where he became the first black dean of Johannesburg.
Tutu's first open act against the Apartheid regime in South Africa was to refuse to take up the official residence of the dean of Johannesburg (in the white suburb of Houghton), and to live, instead, in Soweto. Only six months into his seven year term as dean of Johannesburg, Tutu was asked to stand for election as bishop of Lesotho. He tried to turn the nomination down, but the Anglican leadership was adamant he should go. On 16 June 1976, a few days before Tutu and his family were due to leave, high-school students in Soweto protested against Bantu education. The students were answered with teargas and bullets. Tutu was torn, wanting to stay in South Africa and help. But he was advised that Lesotho's need for him was greater, and he reluctantly went. He was consecrated as bishop of Lesotho on 11 July 1976. In 1977 he was briefly called back to South Africa to be a speaker at the funeral of Steve Biko. His presence at such an emotive event gave power to calls for him to return full time to South Africa. Tutu was nominated for the post of secretary-general of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), and in March 1978 he left Lesotho to take up the position. He retained the post of secretary-general until 1985.
Tutu was very vocal in his opposition to the Apartheid regime. He called for international economic sanctions, particularly during a 1979 trip to Denmark, which led to his passport being withdrawn for two years. His passport was withdrawn again after traveling in 1981. After that he used a document simply stamped 'nationality undetermined'. He is recognized internationally for his role in mobilizing condemnation of Apartheid around the world. And back in South Africa he was able to shape the SACC's anti-Apartheid stance. (To the extent that in 1984 the South African government attempted to ban the SACC -- they eventually backed down.)
In the autumn of 1984 Desmond Tutu took a sabbatical at the General Theological Seminary in New York. It was here that he received the news that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1985, shortly after his return to South Africa, he was elected bishop of Johannesburg. The following year he became Archbishop of Cape Town and primate (head) of the Anglican Church in South Africa -- the first black South African to gain the post. He continued to speak out against Apartheid, including a call for the release of Nelson Mandela during his installation speech. During the next nine years, Tutu was at the forefront of public debates on the dismantling of white minority rule. One of his proudest moments was, he says, to be there for the release of Mandela, and at the creation of a Government of National Unity.
Retirement from the Church and a new Role in the TRC
Desmond Tutu planned his retirement from the post of archbishop of Cape Town for 1995. Just a few days before it came through, he was appointed chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which had been set up to investigate crimes against humanity committed during the Apartheid era. Along with the other commissioners, Tutu listened to the live testimony of over 2,500 victims of persecution and torture. Read much of the 20,000 written submissions, and over saw the processing of more than 7,000 applications for amnesty (from both sides of the struggle). The report of the commission was handed over to Nelson Mandela by Tutu in October 1998.
In recognition of his role in the South African church, Tutu was awarded on 1 July 1996 the title archbishop emeritus. Despite his resignation from official church duties, Tutu has maintained his role as a global activist -- committed to the cause of justice, peace and human rights. When Mandela announced the formation of the Elders in July 2007, Tutu was amongst those listed.
In 2010 he revealed that he would retire from public life following his 79th birthday.