U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and First Lady Jill Biden on Sunday eulogized South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero Archbishop Desmond Tutu who passed earlier in the day at the age of 90.
They wrote, “On this morning after Christmas, we are heartbroken to learn of the passing of a true servant of God and of the people, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
“We were blessed to spend time with him on several occasions over the past many years. His courage and moral clarity helped inspire our commitment to change American policy toward the repressive Apartheid regime in South Africa. We felt his warmth and joy when we visited him during the 2010 World Cup that celebrated the diversity and beauty of his beloved nation. And, just a few months ago, we joined the world in celebrating his 90th birthday and reflecting on the power of his message of justice, equality, truth, and reconciliation as we confront racism and extremism in our time today.
“Born to a school teacher and a laundress and into poverty and entrenched racial segregation, Desmond Tutu followed his spiritual calling to create a better, freer, and more equal world. His legacy transcends borders and will echo throughout the ages.
“On behalf of the Biden family, we send our deepest condolences to his wife Leah and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And on behalf of the people of the United States, we send our deepest condolences to the people of South Africa who are mourning the loss of one of their most important founding fathers.
“May God bless Archbishop Desmond Tutu.”
Tutu passed away on Sunday, December 26, in Cape Town, South Africa
Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his struggle against apartheid and served as the country’s informal ambassador to the world during the dark days of repression, has died. He was 90.
Tutu has been in poor health since 2013 when he underwent tests for a persistent infection. The following years, he was admitted to hospital several times.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his condolences to Tutu’s family and friends in a statement on Sunday, calling him “a patriot without equal.”
“A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world,” Ramaphosa said.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari also condoled “with President Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africans and the global Christian body, particularly Anglican Communion, over passing of Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu, 90, on Sunday, December 26, 2021.”
“President Buhari believes the death of the iconic teacher, human rights activist, leader of thought, scholar and philanthropist, further creates a void in a world in dire need of wisdom, integrity, courage and sound reasoning, which were qualities that the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, 1984, typified and exemplified in words and actions,” the presidency in Nigeria wrote in a statement on Sunday. “As a South African, global citizen and renowned world leader, the President affirms that the historic role Archbishop Tutu played in the fight against apartheid, enduring physical assaults, jail terms and prolonged exile, took him beyond the pulpit to global, political relevance, and his position, under President Nelson Mandela, in heading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission provided healing and direction for his country and the world.”
It added, “President Buhari commiserates with Leah Tutu, the spouse of the spiritual leader and lifelong partner in the struggle against injustice, corruption and inequality, the Tutu family, board and staff of Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, Elders and Nobel Laureate Group, urging solace that the voice of the scholar and teacher, his published works, and inspirational quotes will resonate through generations, bringing more light and clarity to religious diversity, democracy and good governance. The President prays for the repose of the soul of Archbishop Tutu, whose life and times sent an unforgettable message on love and forgiveness.”
For six decades, Tutu was a big voice in the campaign for racial equality that culminated with Nelson Mandela’s election as South Africa’s first black President in 1994. After apartheid ended in the early ’90s and Mandela became president of the southern African country, Tutu was named chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a statement that it was saddened by Desmond Tutu’s passing, saying that his life has been a blessing for many people in South Africa and around the world.
It wrote, “The loss of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu is immeasurable. He was larger than life, and for so many in South Africa and around the world his life has been a blessing. His contributions to struggles against injustice, locally and globally, are matched only by the depth of his thinking about the making of liberatory futures for human societies. He was an extraordinary human being. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this most difficult time.”
“The Arch meant everything to me,” said Foundation Chief Executive Sello Hatang. “I first met him during the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and was privileged to work with him on a number of projects over the years. He was a friend to Madiba and to the Foundation.”
The Foundation added, “Nelson Mandela and the Archbishop Emeritus first met at a debating competition in the early 1950s. It would be four decades later before they met again, on the day that Mandela was released from prison. His first night as a free man was spent at the home of the Tutus in Bishopscourt, Cape Town. On that occasion before everyone retired for the night, Tutu offered a prayer of thanksgiving and led a singing of Reverend Tiyo Soga’s famous hymn in isiXhosa, ‘Lizalis’idinga lakho’ – ‘Let your will be done’.
“The apartheid state had frustrated attempts by both Mandela and Tutu for the two of them to meet before the prison release on 11 February 1990. From then until Mandela passed away in 2013 they were in regular contact and their friendship deepened over time. There was a light, almost teasing quality, to their relationship. They relentlessly poked fun at each other’s preferred attire, for instance – Mandela wearing his Madiba shirts and the Arch his robes. But they also collaborated on a number of important initiatives.
“It was Tutu who held aloft Madiba’s hand on the balcony of Cape Town’s City Hall on 9 May 1994 and presented him to the assembled throngs as the country’s new “out of the box” President. In 1995 Mandela appointed him to chair the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a position Tutu used to drive endeavour to reckon with oppressive pasts but also to hold the new democratic government accountable. As Mandela reflected in that period: “His most characteristic quality is his readiness to take unpopular positions without fear … He speaks his mind on matters of public morality. As a result, he annoyed many of the leaders of the apartheid system. Nor has he spared those that followed them – he has from time to time annoyed many of us who belong to the new order. But such independence of mind – however wrong and unstrategic it may at times be – is vital to a thriving democracy.” Most recently, of course, Tutu spoke out robustly and insistently against state capture.
“In 2004 he delivered the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, and used the platform to deliver a stinging critique of the governing party. The thrust of his argument was the extent to which leadership had failed society’s most vulnerable. “We were involved in the struggle because we believed we would evolve a new kind of society. A caring, a compassionate society. At the moment many, too many, of our people live in gruelling, demeaning, dehumanising poverty.”
“Madiba and the Arch were both founding members of The Elders, an international grouping of inspirational leaders which has done human rights work in countries around the world.
“We owe it both to Madiba and to the Arch to continue working for the country and the world of their dreams,” said Hatang. “Their intersecting legacies are powerful resources for social justice work.”
“When Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013, Archbishop Emeritus Tutu said: “This is a man who cared.” As the Foundation mourns today the passing of our beloved Arch, we in turn can say precisely the same of him. May he rest in peace.”