Tutu, Archbishop Desmond

Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu was born on 7 October 1931 in Klerksdorp in the North West province of South Africa. His father was a teacher and his mother a domestic worker. When Tutu was 12 his family moved to Johannesburg, and he attended the Johannesburg Bantu High School. At this stage in his life he first met, and was later to a great extent influenced by the late Father Trevor Huddleston, an Anglican cleric in the Johannesburg township of Sophiatown, who spoke sharply against apartheid.

After leaving school in 1951 he trained first as a teacher at Pretoria Bantu Normal College and in 1954 he received his diploma. He wanted to qualify as a doctor, but his family could not afford to pay for his training. He then instead, studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree.

After graduating with from the University of South Africa in 1954, he became a schoolteacher at high schools near Johannesburg. On 2 July 1955 he married Leah Nomalizo Shenxane. They have three daughters, a son and several grandchildren. Following three years as a high school teacher he began to study theology, and was ordained as a priest in 1960.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu furthered his theological studies at King’s College in England between 1962-66, and obtained a Master of Theology. From 1967 to 1972 he taught theology in South Africa before he returned to England for a three years stint as the assistant director of a theological institute in London.

He was appointed Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg in 1975 – the first black person 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 (SACC). Tutu is an honorary doctor of a number of leading universities in Britain, Germany and the USA (including Harvard, Kent, Columbia, Aberdeen, and Howard University). In 1982 his book The Divine Intention, a collection of his lectures, was published. Tutu was enthroned as the first black Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg on 3 February 1985.

The SACC is a contact organization for the churches of South Africa and functions as a South African national committee for the World Council of Churches. Initially some of the Afrikaner churches have disassociated themselves from the organization as a result of the unambiguous viewpoint it has made against apartheid. Around 80 percent of its members are black, and they now dominate the leading positions.

Desmond Tutu has formulated his main aim as “a democratic and just society without racial divisions”, and has stipulated specific minimum demands: He advocated equal civil rights for all, calling for economic sanctions against the South African government in protest of apartheid. Once Apartheid was ended, he was selected by President Nelson Mandela to serve as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, he was honoured with the Order for Meritorious Service Award (Gold) presented by President Mandela, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Award for outstanding Service to the Anglican Communion, the Prix d’Athene (Onassis Foundation), the Family of Man Gold Medal Award and the Martin Luther King Jr. Non Violent Peace Prize. Tutu was appointed archbishop of Cape Town and head of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa in 1986. He retired form his primacy as Archbishop of Cape Town in June 1996, but was named Archbishop Emeritus as from July 1996.

During the Apartheid era up to 1990, Tutu’s vigorous advocacy of social justice made him a controversial figure, but now many percieve him as an elder statesman with a major role to play in reconciliation, and as a leading moral voice.

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