Desmond Tutu - History

Desmond Tutu - History

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Moise Tshombe

1919- 1969

Congolese Politician

Moise Tshombe was born near Msumba, Belgium Congo on November 10th, 1919.

Moise Tshombe was educated in an American Missionary School and eventually became a businessman. In 1959, he founded CONKAT, a Belgian-supported political party that advocated independence for the Belgian Congo along with a loose confederation with Belgium. After Congo achieved independence in 1960, Tshombe, who was the province president of the mineral-rich Kantanga Republic, led the province in seccession, creating the "Congo Crisis."

In 1963, after two years of war, the forces of Tshombe were defeated by the central government. Tshombe fled the country in 1963, returning in 1964 to join a coalition government. In 1966, he was accused of treason and fled once more. He died three years later.

The Tragic Truth About Desmond Tutu

South African cleric Desmond Mpilo Tutu rose to public fame for his work against apartheid. He has held several titles throughout his career, including the bishop of Johannesburg and the archbishop of Cape Town. A passionate activist, he campaigned for Black rights in South Africa while lending his voice to several international causes, including speaking out against homophobia, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and human rights issues in war-torn Iraq.

Despite coming from a humble background, Tutu has left no stone unturned in his effort to change the course of his life and pursue his dreams. He is now a globally recognized figure, known for his unrelenting stance on nonviolence. Despite attracting criticism from religious officials due to his views on topics like homosexuality, Tutu is widely hailed as a crucial leader for relentlessly fighting apartheid in South Africa despite facing a plethora of obstacles along the way.

The clergyman was honored with the Nobel Prize in 1984 for his work against apartheid. He is considered a respectable voice when it comes to many issues today. However, Desmond Tutu's life has been far from rosy and has been filled with countless setbacks. Here's a look at the activist's lesser-known stories and anecdotes.

Age, Height & Measurements

Bishop Desmond Tutu current age 87 years old years old. He born under the Libra horoscope as Bishop's birth date is October 7. Bishop Desmond Tutu height 5 Feet 0 Inches (Approx) & weight 318 lbs (144.2 kg) (Approx.). Right now we don't know about body measurements. We will update in this article.

Height7 Feet 0 Inches (Approx)
Weight232 lbs (105.2 kg) (Approx)
Body Measurements
Eye ColorDark Brown
Hair ColorSald and Pepper
Dress SizeXXS
Shoe Size8.5 (US), 7.5 (UK), 42 (EU), 26.5 (CM)

Desmond Tutu Biography

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, Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. In the transition to democracy, Tutu was an influential figure in promoting the concept of forgiveness and reconciliation. Tutu has been recognised as the ‘moral conscience of South Africa’ and frequently speaks up on issues of justice and peace.

Tutu was born Klerksdorp, Transvaal, South Africa on 7 October 1931. After graduating from school, he studied at Pretoria Bantu Normal College from 1951. However, after the passage of the apartheid Bantu Education Act in 1953, Tutu resigned from teaching in protest at the diminished opportunities for black South Africans. He continued to study, concentrating on Theology. During this period in 1955, he married Nomalizo Leah Shenxane – they had four children together. In 1961, he was ordained an Anglican Priest.

Desmond Tutu at Vilakazi Street, Soweto. Photo Johan Wessels CC SA

In 1962, he moved to England, where he studied at Kings College London, where he gained a master’s degree in theology. He also became a part-time curate in St Alban’s and Golders Green.

In 1967, he returned to South Africa and became increasingly involved in the anti-apartheid movement. He was influenced amongst others by fellow Anglican Bishop Trevor Huddleston. Tutu’s understanding of the Gospels and his Christian faith meant he felt compelled to take a stand and speak out against injustice.

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 Africans against apartheid, especially in Soweto. In his position as a leading member of the clergy, Desmond Tutu used his influence to speak firmly 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 to his position in the church, the government were reluctant to make a ‘martyr’ out of him. This gave Desmond Tutu more opportunity to criticise the government than many other members of the ANC.

During South Africa’s turbulent transformation to end apartheid and implement democracy, Tutu was a powerful force for encouraging inter-racial harmony. He encouraged fellow South Africans to transcend racial differences and see themselves as one nation.

“Be nice to the whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity.”

– New York Times (19 October 1984)

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. The expression has since entered mainstream consciousness to describe South Africa’s ethnic diversity.

“At home in South Africa I have sometimes said in big meetings where you have black and white together: ‘Raise your hands!’ Then I have said: ‘Move your hands,’ and I’ve said ‘Look at your hands – different colors representing different people. You are the Rainbow People of God.’”

Sermon in Tromsö, Norway (5 December 1991)

Tutu has frequently called for a message of reconciliation and forgiveness. He has stated that real justice is not about retribution but seeking to illumine and enable people to move forward.

“There are different kinds of justice. Retributive justice is largely Western. The African understanding is far more restorative – not so much to punish as to redress or restore a balance that has been knocked askew.”

– Desmond Tutu, “Recovering from Apartheid” at The New Yorker (18 November 1996)

Desmond Tutu on foreign policy

Desmond Tutu was critical of George Bush and Tony Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq. 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 has been critical of Israeli attitudes to the occupation of Palestine. He has also been critical of the US-Israeli lobby which is intolerant of any criticism of Israel.

Tutu took part in investigations into the Isreali bombings 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.”

Tutu has also become involved in the issue of Climate Change, calling it one of the great challenges of humanity.

Social Issues

Desmond Tutu, Cologne, 2007. © Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0

Desmond Tutu has been in the forefront of campaigns against the AIDS virus, especially in South Africa where the government have often been reticent. 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 should be no discrimination 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.”

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 Maqubela Prize for Liberty in 1986.

Since Nelson Mandela‘s passing, Tutu became increasingly critical of the ANC leadership, believing they wasted opportunities to create a better legacy and end the poverty endemic in many black townships.

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.

Tutu is a committed Christian and starts every day with a period of quiet, reflection, walk and Bible reading. Even on the momentous day of 27 April 1994 when blacks were able to vote for the first time, Tutu wrote “As always, I had got up early for a quiet time before my morning walk and then morning prayers and the Eucharist.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Sri Chinmoy

Tutu is also a supporter of interfaith harmony. He admires fellow religious leaders, such as the Dalai Lama and feels that a person’s outer religion is not of critical importance.

“Bringing people together is what I call ‘Ubuntu,’ which means ‘I am because we are.’ Far too often people think of themselves as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out it is for the whole of humanity.”

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography Desmond Tutu” Oxford, UK. – 13th March 2017.

The Words and Inspiration of Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Rabble Rouser for Peace

Related pages

Famous Africans – A list of famous Africans. Includes Nelson Mandela, F.W. De Klerk, Haile Selassie, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Anwar Sadat, Kofi Annan and Wangari Maathai.

– People who campaigned for equality, civil rights and civil justice. Includes Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.

Desmond Tutu vs. Israel: an old story

An old saying has it that “liberalism is always being surprised.” That is the only possible explanation of Jewish expressions of “surprise” and “shock” that Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in late October, urged the South African Opera troupe to cancel its engagement to perform “Porgy and Bess” in Israel. Turning a blind eye to Tutu’s hatred of Israel and, indeed, of Jews generally is, to be sure, not exclusively a Jewish failing. Just a few months ago, on the occasion of the Anglican clergyman’s 79th birthday, U.S. President Barack Obama lauded him as “a moral titan – a voice of principle, an unrelenting champion of justice and a dedicated peacemaker.”

In this year alone, Tutu has demonstrated his dedication to peace, justice and principle in the Middle East, in particular, by speaking up for Hamas and supporting the “Freedom Flotilla” of Islamist jihadists and “internationalist” do-gooders (people who confuse doing good with feeling good about what they are doing), who in spring, tried to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. He also repeatedly has endorsed the activities of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. This reincarnation of the Nazis’ “Kauf nicht beim Juden” campaign of the 1930s constantly invokes Tutu’s “authoritative” condemnation of Israel (where Arabs and Jews use the same buses, beaches, clinics, cafés and soccer fields, and attend the same universities) as an “apartheid” state.

But his fulminations against Jews have a long history, so well-documented that one wonders how the “surprised” Jewish leaders or President Obama can possibly be ignorant of it, especially now that the latter has a “director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism” named Hannah Rosenthal, who has shown herself adept even at spotting that evanescent phenomenon called “Islamophobia” at a distance of 10 miles. Here are just a few examples of Tutu’s “moral titanism” on the Jewish question:

On the day after Christmas, 1989, in Jerusalem, Tutu, standing before the memorial at Yad Vashem to the millions of Jews murdered by the Nazis, prayed for the murderers and scolded the descendants of their victims: “We pray for those who made it happen, help us to forgive them and help us so that we, in our turn, will not make others suffer.” This, he said, was his “message” to the Israeli children and grandchildren of the dead.

Moral obtuseness, mean spite and monstrous arrogance do not make for sound ethics and theology. Neither Tutu nor the Israelis he lectured can “forgive” the Nazi murderers. Representatives of an injured group are not licensed (even by the most sanctimonious of preachers) to forgive on behalf of the whole group in fact, forgiveness issues from G-d alone. The forgiveness offered to the Nazis is truly pitiless because it forgets the victims, blurs over suffering and obliterates the past.

Tutu always is far less moved by the actuality of what the Nazis did. “The gas chambers,” he once said, “made for a neater death” than apartheid resettlement policies, than by the hypothetical potentiality of what, in his jaundiced view, Israelis might do.

His speeches against apartheid returned obsessively to gross, licentious equations between the former South African system and Jewish practices, biblical and modern. “The Jews,” Tutu declared in 1984, “thought they had a monopoly on G-d” and “Jesus was angry that they could shut out other human beings.”

Tutu has been an avid supporter of the Goebbels-like equation of Zionism with racism. He has alleged that “Jews . think they have cornered the market on suffering” and that Jews are “quick to yell ‘anti-Semitism,’ ” because of “an arrogance of power – because Jews have such a strong lobby in the United States.”

Jewish power in America is, in fact, a favorite Tutu theme. In late April 2002, he praised his own courage in resisting it. “People are scared in [America] to say wrong is wrong, because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin were all powerful, but, in the end, they bit the dust.”

Tutu repeatedly has declared that (as he once told a Jewish Theological Seminary audience) “whether Jews like it or not, they are a peculiar people. They can’t ever hope to be judged by the same standards which are used for other people.”

Certainly, Tutu has never judged Jews by the standards he uses for other people. Although South African and American Jews were more, not less, critical of apartheid than the majority of their countrymen, Tutu, in 1987, threatened that “in the future, South African Jews will be punished if Israel continues dealing with South Africa.” Israel’s trade with South Africa was about 7 percent of America’s, less than a 10th of Japan’s, Germany’s or England’s. But, Tutu never threatened South African or American citizens of Japanese, German or English extraction with punishment.

Citizens of Arab nations supplied 99 percent of the one resource without which apartheid South Africa could not have existed: oil. Tutu made countless inflammatory remarks about Israel’s weapons sales to South Africa (mainly of naval patrol boats), but said almost nothing about South Africa’s main Western arms supplier, France, which built two of South Africa’s three nuclear reactors – the third being American. He also was silent about Jordan’s sale of tanks and missiles to the apartheid regime.

Tutu’s insistence on applying a double standard to Jews may explain an otherwise mysterious feature of his anti-Israel rhetoric. He once asked Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Eliahu Lankin, “how it was possible that the Jews, who had suffered so much persecution, could oppress other people.”

On another occasion, he expressed dismay “that Israel, with the kind of history . her people have experienced, should make refugees [actually, she didn’t] of others.”

In other words, Jews, according to Tutu, have a duty to behave particularly well, because Jews have suffered so much persecution. The mad corollary of this proposition is that the descendants of those who have not been persecuted do not have a special duty to behave well, and the descendants of the persecutors can be excused altogether for behavior it would be hard to excuse in other people. This may explain not only Tutu’s decision to pray for the Nazis while berating the descendants of their victims, but also his long and ardent devotion to the PLO, whose leader, Yassir Arafat, was both the biological relative and spiritual descendant of Haj Amin el-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem who actively collaborated with Hitler in the destruction of European Jewry.

Rabbinical tradition, however, provides a simpler explanation of Tutu’s eagerness to “forgive” the Nazis while excoriating the descendants of their victims: “Whoever is merciful to the cruel,” the rabbis warn, “will end by being indifferent to the innocent.”

Edward Alexander is professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington. His most recent book is “The Jewish Wars” (Transaction Publishers, 2010).

Desmond Tutu/Israel

While acknowledging the significant role Jews played in the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa, voicing support for Israel's security concerns, and speaking against tactics of suicide bombing and incitement to hatred, Ώ] Tutu is an active and prominent proponent of the campaign for divestment from Israel, ΐ] likening Israel's treatment of Palestinians to the treatment of Black South Africans under apartheid. Ώ] Tutu drew this comparison on a Christmas visit to Jerusalem in 1989, when he said that he is a "black South African, and if I were to change the names, a description of what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank could describe events in South Africa." Α] He made similar comments in 2002, speaking of "the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about". Β]

In 1988, the American Jewish Committee noted that Tutu was strongly critical of Israel's military and other connections with apartheid-era South Africa, and quoted him as saying that Zionism has "very many parallels with racism", on the grounds that it "excludes people on ethnic or other grounds over which they have no control". While the AJC was critical of some of Tutu's views, it dismissed "insidious rumours" that he had made anti-Semitic statements. Γ] The precise wording of Tutu's statement has been reported differently in different sources. A subsequent Toronto Star article indicates that he described Zionism "as a policy that looks like it has many parallels with racism, the effect is the same. Δ]

In 2002, when delivering a public lecture in support of divestment, Tutu said "My heart aches. I say why are our memories so short. Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the downtrodden?" Ώ] He argued that Israel could never live in security by oppressing another people, and continued, "People are scared in this country [the US], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful - very powerful. Well, so what? For goodness sake, this is God's world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust." Ώ] The latter statement was criticized by some Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League. Ε] Ζ] When he edited and reprinted parts of his speech in 2005, Tutu replaced the words "Jewish lobby" with "pro-Israel lobby". Η]

The Holocaust

Tutu preached a message of forgiveness during a 1989 trip to Israel's Yad Vashem museum, saying "Our Lord would say that in the end the positive thing that can come is the spirit of forgiving, not forgetting, but the spirit of saying: God, this happened to us. We pray for those who made it happen, help us to forgive them and help us so that we in our turn will not make others suffer." ⎖] Some found this statement offensive, with Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center calling it "a gratuitous insult to Jews and victims of Nazism everywhere." ⎗] Tutu was subjected to racial slurs during this visit to Israel, with vandals writing "Black Nazi pig" on the walls of the St. George's Cathedral in East Jerusalem, where he was staying. ⎖]

Palestinian Christians

In 2003, Tutu accepted the role as patron of Sabeel International, ⎘] a Christian liberation theology organization which supports the concerns of the Palestinian Christian community and has actively lobbied the International Christian community for divestment from Israel. ⎙] In the same year, Archbishop Tutu received an International Advocate for Peace Award from the Cardozo School of Law, an affiliate of Yeshiva University, sparking scattered student protests and condemnations from representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Anti-Defamation League. ⎚] A 2006 opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post newspaper described him as "a friend, albeit a misguided one, of Israel and the Jewish people". ⎛] The Zionist Organization of America has led a campaign to protest Tutu's appearances at North American campuses.

Tutu was appointed as the UN Lead for an investigation into Israel's 2006 bombing of Beit Hanoun bombings [1]. Israel refused Tutu's delegation access so the investigation didn't occur until 2008.

During that fact-finding mission, Tutu called the Gaza blockade an abomination [2] and compared Israel's behavior to the military junta in Burma.

During the 2008-2009 Gaza War, Tutu called the Israeli offensive "war crimes".

US Protests against Tutu

In 2007, the president of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota cancelled a planned speech from Tutu, on the grounds that his presence might offend some members of the local Jewish community. ⎜] Many faculty members opposed this decision, and with some describing Tutu as the victim of a smear campaign. The group Jewish Voice for Peace led an email campaign calling on St. Thomas to reconsider its decision, ⎝] which the president did and invited Tutu to campus. ⎞] Tutu declined the re-invitation, speaking instead at the Minneapolis Convention Center at an event hosted by Metro State University. ⎟] However, Tutu later addressed the issue two days later while making his final appearance at Metro State.

“There were those who tried to say ‘Tutu shouldn’t come to [St.Thomas] to speak.’ I was 10,000 miles away and I thought to myself, ‘Ah, no,’ because there were many here who said ‘No, come and speak,’” Tutu said. “People came and stood and had demonstrations to say ‘Let Tutu speak.’ [Metropolitan State] said ‘Whatever, he can come and speak here.’ Professor Toffolo and others said ‘We stand for him.’ So let us stand for them." ⎠]

Dershowitz comment

Alan Dershowitz referred to Tutu as a "racist and a bigot" in April 2009, due to Tutu's participation in the controversial Durban II conference and because of what he believes are Tutu's misguided criticisms of Israel. [3]

Desmond Tutu/Tutu's role during apartheid

In 1976 the protests in Soweto, also known as the Soweto Riots, against the government's use of Afrikaans as a compulsory medium of instruction in black schools became a massive uprising against apartheid. From then on Tutu supported an economic boycott of his country. He vigorously opposed the "constructive engagement" policy of the Reagan administration in the United States, which advocated "friendly persuasion". Tutu rather supported disinvestment, although it hit the poor hardest, for if disinvestment threw blacks out of work, Tutu argued, at least they would be suffering "with a purpose". In 1985 the US and the UK (two primary investors into South Africa) stopped any investments. As a result, disinvestment did succeed, causing the value of the Rand to plunge down more than 35 percent, and pressuring the government toward reform. Tutu pressed the advantage and organised peaceful marches which brought 30,000 people onto the streets of Cape Town. That was the turning point: within months, Nelson Mandela was freed from prison, and apartheid was beginning to crumble. Ώ]

Tutu was Bishop of Lesotho from 1976 until 1978, when he became Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches. From this position, he was able to continue his work against apartheid with agreement from nearly all churches. Tutu consistently advocated reconciliation between all parties involved in apartheid through his writings and lectures at home and abroad. Tutu's opposition to apartheid was vigorous and unequivocal, and he was outspoken both in South Africa and abroad. He often compared apartheid was chosen in his stead. Tutu has commented that he is "glad" that he was not chosen, as once installed to Nazism and Communism, as a result the government twice revoked his passport, and he was jailed briefly in 1980 after a protest march. It was thought by many that Tutu's increasing international reputation and his rigorous advocacy of non-violence protected him from harsher penalties. Tutu was also harsh in his criticism of the violent tactics of some anti-apartheid groups such as the African National Congress and denounced terrorism and Communism. When a new constitution was proposed for South Africa in 1983 to defend against the anti-apartheid movement, Tutu helped form the National Forum Committee to fight the constitutional changes. ΐ] Despite his opposition to apartheid Tutu was criticised for "selective indignation" by his passive attitude towards the coup regime in Lesotho (1970–86), where he had taught from 1970-2 and served as Bishop 1976-1978, leaving just as civil war broke out. This contrasted poorly with the courageous stance of Lesotho Evangelical Church personnel who were murdered by the regime. After 1994 his Truth and Reconciliation Council work was criticised for impeding justice for those who had committed atrocities.

In 1985, Tutu was appointed the Bishop of Johannesburg before he became the first black person to lead the Anglican Church in South Africa when, on 7 September 1986, he became Archbishop of Cape Town on the retirement of former Archbishop Philip Welsford Richmond Russell. From 1987 to 1997 he was president of the All Africa Conference of Churches. In 1989 he was invited to Birmingham, England, United Kingdom as part of Citywide Christian Celebrations. Tutu and his wife visited many establishments including the Nelson Mandela School in Sparkbrook.

Tutu was considered as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1990, however George Carey

in Lambeth Palace, he would have been homesick for South Africa, unhappy to be away from home during a critical time in the country's history. Α]

In 1990, Tutu and the ex-Vice Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape Professor Jakes Gerwel founded the Desmond Tutu Educational Trust. The Trust was established to fund developmental programmes in tertiary education and provides capacity building at 17 historically disadvantaged institutions. Tutu's work as a mediator in order to prevent all-out racial war was evident at the funeral of South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani in 1993. Tutu spurred a crowd of 120,000 to repeat after him the chants, over and over: "We will be free!", "All of us!", "Black and white together!" and finished his speech saying:

"We are the rainbow people of God! We are unstoppable! Nobody can stop us on our march to victory! No one, no guns, nothing! Nothing will stop us, for we are moving to freedom! We are moving to freedom and nobody can stop us! For God is on our side!" Β]

In 1993, he was a patron of the Cape Town Olympic Bid Committee. In 1994 he was an appointed a patron of the World Campaign Against Military and Nuclear Collaboration with South Africa, Beacon Millennium and Action from Ireland. In 1995 he was appointed a Chaplain and Sub-Prelate of the Venerable Order of Saint John by Queen Elizabeth II, Γ] and he became a patron of the American Harmony Child Foundation and the Hospice Association of Southern Africa.

Desmond Tutu’s long history of fighting for lesbian and gay rights

Desmond Tutu is by far the most high-profile African, if not global, religious leader to support lesbian and gay rights, and he has done so since the 1970s.

Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu is mostly known to the world for his highly prominent role in the campaign against apartheid in South Africa. This role was internationally recognised by the awarding of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize.

Tutu continued his activism even after the country’s democratic transition in South Africa in the early 1990s. Among other things, he served as chair of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission which sought to deal with the crimes and injustices under apartheid, and to bring about justice, healing and reconciliation in a wounded society. He retired as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996.

In more recent years Tutu has become known for his strong advocacy on issues of sexuality, in particular the rights of lesbian and gay people. For instance, in 2013, he made global headlines with the clear and succinct statement, in typical Tutu fashion, that he:

would rather go to hell than to a homophobic heaven.

Tutu is by far the most high-profile African, if not global, religious leader to support lesbian and gay rights. This has added to his international reputation as a progressive thinker and activist, especially in the western world. But his stance has been met with suspicion on the African continent itself. A fellow Anglican bishop, Emmanuel Chukwuma from Nigeria, even declared him to be “spiritually dead”.

For distant observers, Tutu’s advocacy around sexuality might appear to be a recent phenomenon. For his critics, it might be another illustration of how he has tried to be the darling of white liberal audiences in the Western world.

In fact his commitment to defending gay and lesbian rights isn’t a recent development it dates as far back as the 1970s. In addition, it is very much in continuity with his long-standing resistance against apartheid and his relentless defence of black civil rights in South Africa.

Common thread

Shortly after the end of apartheid in 1994, Tutu wrote that

If the church, after the victory over apartheid, is looking for a worthy moral crusade, then this is it: the fight against homophobia and heterosexism.

Driving both struggles is Tutu’s strong moral and political commitment to defending the human dignity and rights of all people. Theologically, this is rooted in his conviction that every human being is created in the image of God and therefore is worthy of respect.

In the 1980s, Tutu and other Christian leaders had used the concept of ‘heresy’ to denounce apartheid in the strongest theological language. They famously stated that “apartheid is a heresy”, meaning that it is in conflict with the most fundamental Christian teaching.

Tutu also used another strong theological term: blasphemy, meaning an insult of God-self. In 1984, he wrote:

Apartheid’s most blasphemous aspect is … that it can make a child of God doubt that he is a child of God. For that reason alone, it deserves to be condemned as a heresy.

More than a decade later, Tutu used very similar words to denounce homophobia and heterosexism. He wrote that it was “the ultimate blasphemy” to make lesbian and gay people doubt whether they truly were children of God and whether their sexuality was part of how they were created by God.

Tutu’s equation of black civil rights and lesbian and gay rights is part of a broader South African narrative and dates back to the days of the apartheid struggle. Openly gay anti-apartheid activists, such as Simon Nkoli, had actively participated in the liberation movement, and had successfully intertwined the struggles against racism and homophobia.

On the basis of this history, South Africa’s Constitution, adopted in 1996, included a non-discrimination clause that lists sexual orientation, alongside race and other characteristics. It was the first country in the world to do so, and Tutu had actively lobbied for it.

A decade later, South Africa became the sixth country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage.

Reverend Mpho Andrea Tutu and Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu attend an award gala in New York City.
Thos Robinson/Getty Images/Shared Interest

Attitudes still need work

Arguably, these legal provisions did not automatically translate into a change of social attitudes towards lesbian and gay people at a grassroots level. Homophobia remains widespread in South African society today.

Tutu’s own church, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, continues to struggle with gay issues. In 2015 his daughter, Mpho Tutu, had to give up her position as an ordained priest after she married a woman. Tutu gave the newly wed couple a blessing anyway.

The question of same-sex relationships and the status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people continues to be controversial across the world. In this context, Tutu is an influential figure who uses his moral authority to help shape the debates.

His equation of racial and sexual equality is particularly important, as it foregrounds how the struggle for justice, equality and human rights are interconnected: we cannot claim rights for one group of people while denying them to others.

This article is an abbreviated version of a chapter about Desmond Tutu in the book Reimagining Christianity and Sexuality in Africa, co-authored by Adriaan van Klinken and Ezra Chitando, and to be published with Zed Books in London (2021).

Adriaan van Klinken, Associate Professor of Religion and African Studies, University of Leeds

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Tutu was born of mixed Xhosa and Motswana heritage to a poor family in Klerksdorp, Union of South Africa. Entering adulthood, he trained as a teacher and married Nomalizo Leah Tutu, with whom he had several children. In 1960, he was ordained as an Anglican priest and in 1962 moved to the United Kingdom to study theology at King's College London.

In 1966 he returned to southern Africa, teaching at the Federal Theological Seminary and then the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. In 1972, he became the Theological Education Fund's director for Africa, a position based in London but necessitating regular tours of the African continent.

Back in southern Africa in 1975, he served first as dean of St Mary's Cathedral in Johannesburg and then as Bishop of Lesotho, taking an active role in opposition to South Africa's apartheid system of racial segregation and white-minority rule.

From 1978 to 1985 he was general-secretary of the South African Council of Churches, emerging as one of South Africa's most prominent anti-apartheid activists. Although warning the National Party government that anger at apartheid would lead to racial violence, as an activist he stressed non-violent protest and foreign economic pressure to bring about universal suffrage.

In 1985, Tutu became Bishop of Johannesburg and in 1986 the Archbishop of Cape Town, the most senior position in southern Africa's Anglican hierarchy. In this position he emphasised a consensus-building model of leadership and oversaw the introduction of women priests. Also in 1986, he became president of the All Africa Conference of Churches, resulting in further tours of the continent.

After President F.W. de Klerk released the anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the pair led negotiations to end apartheid and introduce multi-racial democracy, Tutu assisted as a mediator between rival black factions. After the 1994 general election resulted in a coalition government headed by Mandela, the latter selected Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses committed by both pro and anti-apartheid groups. Since apartheid's fall, Tutu has campaigned for gay rights and spoken out on a wide range of subjects, among them the Israel-Palestine conflict, his opposition to the Iraq War, and his criticism of South African Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. In 2010, he retired from public life.

Tutu polarised opinion as he rose to notability in the 1970s. White conservatives who supported apartheid despised him, while many white liberals regarded him as too radical many black radicals accused him of being too moderate and focused on cultivating white goodwill, while Marxist-Leninists criticised his anti-communist stance. He was widely popular among South Africa's black majority, and was internationally praised for his anti-apartheid activism, receiving a range of awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize. He has also compiled several books of his speeches and sermons.

For More Information

Bentley, Judith. Archbishop Tutu of South Africa. Hillside, NJ: Enslow, 1988.

Du Boulay, Shirley. Tutu: Voice of the Voiceless. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988.

Lantier, Patricia and David Winner.. Desmond Tutu: Religious Leader Devoted to Freedom. Milwaukee: G. Stevens Children's Books, 1991.

Lelyveld, Joseph. Move Your Shadow. New York: Time Books, 1985.

Tutu, Desmond. The Rainbow People of God. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Watch the video: Desmond Tutu: Working for Justice. practice English with Spotlight