By Josiah Odanga
Desmond Tutu is a human rights activist and retired bishop, born and brought up in South Africa at a time the oppressive apartheid rule was stinging humanity in his motherland to the greatest degree. He fought apartheid to its deathbed and has, to date, remained so vocal and unshaken; only to champion what is good for the people all over the world.
Tutu got training at Pretoria Bantu Normal College between 1951 and 1953 to become a teacher. Following the passage of the Bantu Education Act, black children were subjected to, among other atrocities, overcrowded classrooms. In protest against this, Tutu resigned from his teaching job. He thereafter went to St Peter’s Theological College in Johannesburg, becoming an Anglican Priest in 1961.
Between 1962 and 1966, Tutu received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theology from Kings College in London. Upon his return to South Africa in 1967, he became chaplain of the University of Fort Hare and lectured at the National University of Lesotho for two years just before returning to the UK in 1972. In the UK, he was appointed vice director of the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches at Bromley. Again, he returned to South Africa, and was appointed Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg.
While serving as a bishop in Lesotho in 1976, Tutu organised the ‘Soweto Riots’, which pulled close to 30, 000 people to the streets of Cape Town. This was in protest of the government’s policy that made Afrikaan a compulsory language of instruction in black schools. He supported an economic boycott of his country. He argued that though blacks would lose their jobs, it was okay, as they would be suffering with a purpose.
The bishop’s dire urge was to chat the way forward for the end of apartheid. He had by this time become the secretary general of the South African Council of Churches.
At some point, Tutu opposed his fellow anti-apartheid fighters under the African National Congress (ANC) for apparently employing violent tactics in the fight. He used his writings and the very many public lectures he graced in South Africa and abroad to continue his anti-apartheid spirit.
When the then oppressive government proposed constitutional changes in 1983 to defend apartheid, Tutu quickly formed the National Forum Committee to fight the intent.
Under the reign of ANC, after the end of apartheid, and as a definition of South Africa’s ethnic diversity, Tutu coined the ‘Rainbow Nation’ metaphor to send a message to the world that all lives (black and white) matter. By this time, Tutu headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In 1996, he retired as Archbishop of Cape Town.
Continued oppression under ANC
Even after the fall of apartheid, South Africans still faced frustrations under the reign of ANC and Tutu did not keep quiet. He has publicly condemned ANC under Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma for corruption, poverty, inequality and violence. In 2013, he declared he would no longer vote ANC because the party long lost the script.
Of the Zimbabwe’s leadership under President Robert Mugabe, Tutu has always differed with the president and called him a dictator. He believes Zimbabweans deserve someone other than Mugabe. In 2009, he helped establish Solomonic Islands’ Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Honiara to emphasise the need for forgiveness and peace.
He has also spoken against the suicide bombings in Israel and Palestine, saying such acts only serve to worsen persecution of humanity. He was appointed UN lead investigator into the Israeli bombings in the Beit Hanoun.
Speeches and lectures
Tutu used public platforms at home and away to deliver speeches as part of his activism mission. He graced the 2004 annual Nelson Mandela Foundation Lecture and several others in the United States of America. However, at times people of divergent ideologies protested against his lectures.
The Anglican cleric chaired The Elders for six years since its formation in 2007. The Elders is an organisation that aims at contributing wisdom, leadership and integrity to some world’s toughest problems. He was elected to the board of directors of the International Criminal Court’s Trust Fund for Victims in 2003.
Tutu has authored or co-authored several pieces of literature, including Hope and Suffering – Sermon and Speeches, The Words of Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness and Resistance Art in South Africa.
He launched a global campaign to ensure all children are registered at birth, a mission that aimed at freeing children the agony of traffickers and recognition at times of disaster. He is also on a mission to fight HIV and Aids – calling for removal of expensive taxes on retroviral drugs, Xenophobia and Tuberculosis.
For more than once, he has called on the G8 leaders to promote free trade with poorer developing countries.
He patronises the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and Link Community Development, World Campaign Against Military and Nuclear Collaboration with South Africa, Beacon Millennium and Action from Ireland and the Sabeel International, a liberation theology movement concerned with the well being of the Palestinian Christian Community, among other humanitarian organisations. He has received several awards including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2007. His acts of activism and leadership are often compared to those of Martin Luther King Jnr, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
In a nutshell, Tutu has lived to defend anything humanity. Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born on October 7 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal. His father and mother worked as teacher and school cook, respectively.
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