Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, Transvaal 7 October 1931 in South Africa. As a vocal and committed opponent of apartheid in South Africa he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
After graduating from school he studied at the University of South Africa. With a degree he became a high school teacher. Desmond Tutu then took up the study of theology and spent several years in England to further his theological study.
In 1975 he was appointed Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg, the first black to hold that position. From 1976 to 1978 he was Bishop of Lesotho, and in 1978 became the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches.
Campaign against Apartheid
In 1976, there were increasing levels of protests by black South Africa against apartheid, especially in Soweto. In his position as a leading member of the clergy, Desmond Tutu used his influence to speak strongly and unequivocally against apartheid, often comparing it to Fascist regimes.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
His outspoken criticism caused him to be briefly jailed in 1980 and his passport was twice revoked. However, due in part to his position in the church the government were reluctant to make a ‘martyr’ out of him. Thus, Desmond Tutu had more opportunity to criticise than perhaps other members of the ANC.
In the post Apartheid era, Desmond Tutu is credited with coining the phrase ‘rainbow nation’ A symbolic term for the aspiration to unite South Africa and forget past divisions. Tutu has often called for a message of reconciliation and forgiveness.
“Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.”
– Desmond Tutu
Desmond Tutu on Iraq
Desmond Tutu was critical of George Bush and Tony Blair’s decision to go to war. He criticised the decision to single out Iraq for possession of weapons (which they later proved not to have) when many other countries had a far more deadly arsenal.
He has also been critical of America’s war on Terror, in particular highlighting the abuse of human rights in places such as Guantanamo Bay.
Desmond Tutu on Israel
Desmond Tutu has been critical of Israeli attitudes to the occupation of Palestine. He has also been critical of the US Israeli lobby which is very intolerant of any criticism of Israel.
Tutu took part in investigations into the Isreali bomings in the Beit Hanoun November 2006 incident.
During that fact-finding mission, Tutu called the Gaza blockade an abomination and compared Israel’s behaviour to the military junta in Burma. During the 2008–2009 Gaza War, Tutu called the Israeli offensive “war crimes”.
Desmond Tutu on AIDS
Desmond Tutu has been in the forefront of campaigns against the AIDS virus, especially in South Africa where the government have been slack
Desmond Tutu on Homosexuality
Desmond Tutu has a tolerant attitude to the issue of homosexuality. In particular he despairs at the huge amount of time and energy wasted on discussing the issue within the church. According to Tutu, there is no need to discriminate against people of homosexual orientation.
“Jesus did not say, ‘If I be lifted up I will draw some’.” Jesus said, ‘If I be lifted up I will draw all, all, all, all, all. Black, white, yellow, rich, poor, clever, not so clever, beautiful, not so beautiful. It’s one of the most radical things. All, all, all, all, all, all, all, all. All belong. Gay, lesbian, so-called straight. All, all are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go. All.”
Within church positions, homosexuals are expected to be celibate.
Desmond Tutu on Mugabe
“caricature of an African dictator”
Tutu was the first black ordained South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town. Other awards given to Desmond Tutu include The Gandhi Peace Prize in 2007, the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism, and the Magubela prize for liberty in 1986
He was generally credited with coining the term Rainbow Nation as a metaphor for post-apartheid South Africa after 1994 under African National Congress rule. The expression has since entered mainstream consciousness to describe South Africa’s ethnic diversity.
Since Nelson Mandela’s passing, Tutu has become increasingly critical of the ANC leadership, believing they have wasted opportunities to create a better legacy.
Tutu is one of the patrons of The Forgiveness Project, a UK-based charity which seeks to facilitate conflict resolution and break the cycle of vengeance and retaliation.