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 attention of the 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, Tutu places great value on religious inclusiveness and interfaith dialogue.
Born in Klerksdorp, near Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1931, 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, 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, Tutu became a national and international figure.
The SACC was committed to fulfilling the social responsibility of the Church, and as its chairperson, 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 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 1996, 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.
Following the presentation of the Commission’s report to then President Mandela in October 1998, Tutu has been a visiting professor at Emory University, Atlanta, the Episcopal Divinity School, Boston and the University of North Florida, Jacksonville.
He has published several books, including No Future Without Forgiveness, which was honored with the Book of the Year Award by the Association of Theological booksellers of the United States of America and the Sandro Onofri Prize, bestowed by the Council of Rome, Italy. He has subsequently published God has a Dream.
Archbishop Tutu is involved in many causes and charitable organizations, including the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation. He serves as the Honorary Chair of Artists for a New South Africa’s Amandla AIDS Fund.