The world is mourning the loss of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who became a global figure for leading the fight against South Africa’s repressive Apartheid regime while Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Tutu died Sunday of cancer at age 90 in Cape Town, according to the New York Times.
Tutu was most famous for his work against Apartheid, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. But his humanitarian work continued for decades after Apartheid was dismantled. He wasn’t afraid to take on human rights abuses outside of his own country, including being outspoken about Israel’s occupation and treatment of Palestinians.
Barack Obama gave Tutu the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his global humanitarian work in 2009. But even as he aged, Tutu saved his fiercest energy for calling out corruption at home, even after South Africa’s government flipped from white minority control to being run by the majority-Black African National Congress.
From the New York Times
But as much as he had inveighed against the apartheid-era leadership, he displayed equal disapproval of leading figures in the dominant African National Congress, which came to power under Nelson Mandela in the first fully democratic elections in 1994.
In 2004, the archbishop accused President Thabo Mbeki, Mr. Mandela’s successor, of pursuing policies that enriched a tiny elite while “many, too many, of our people live in grueling, demeaning, dehumanizing poverty.”
Then, in 2011, as critics accused the A.N.C. of corruption and mismanagement, Archbishop Tutu again assailed the government, this time in terms that would have once been unimaginable. “This government, our government, is worse than the apartheid government,” he said, “because at least you were expecting it with the apartheid government.”
He added: “Mr. Zuma, you and your government don’t represent me. You represent your own interests. I am warning you out of love, one day we will start praying for the defeat of the A.N.C. government. You are disgraceful.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a mentor, a friend, and a moral compass for me and so many others. A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere. pic.twitter.com/qiiwtw8a5B
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) December 26, 2021
Tutu leaves behind his wife of more than 60 years, Nomalizo Leah Shenxane, four children and seven grandchildren.
Rest well, sir.