Nigeria: Desmond Tutu (1931-2021) –

Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero, dies at 90

The pulpit as a force for both moral and political change is not usually a very common or successful occurrence. But the history of South Africa stood one man in a unique position to contribute to national history at a defining moment and in a definitive manner. In the ending of apartheid and the emergence of a democratic nation, Desmond Tutu stood out as the moral twin of his lifelong friend and compatriot, Nelson Mandela. Both men, in collaboration with apartheid South Africa’s last president, F.W. de Klerk, ultimately shared a vision and commitment that led to the emergence of what the late Tutu himself christened ‘the rainbow nation’, a land of equality and freedom for citizens of all races.

Poised against a system that was sustained by violence and racial discrimination, Tutu achieved the remarkable feat of using the pulpit not only to preach against apartheid but also rise in support of the political forces determined to subvert and overturn it. Yet, in Tutu’s moral arsenal, there was the unusual power of humour and the uncanny ability to poke fun at the oppressors and dance in solidarity with the oppressed.

This dimunitive man was nonetheless South Africa’s moral giant, towering above others with the force of his conviction and sharp wit. He defied the limitations of debilitating disease to survive in dedication to his calling and historical mission. Neither polio nor tuberculosis in his earlier life could deter him from his lifelong mission. Even in later life, the ravages of prostate cancer could not stop him either.

It is to the eternal credit and vindication of Tutu that his tenacious devotion to the anti-apartheid struggle paid off in his lifetime. After independence and majority rule, Nelson Mandela sought to utilise Tutu’s undisputed leadership to set a tone for the moral compass of the new nation. He was appointed the chairperson of South Africa’s historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This was a role in which Tutu the preacher dramatist was in his elements.

In getting the oppressed to come face to face with their former oppressors, the commission achieved the feat of easing the pain of the years of oppression and achieving considerable reconciliation among the populace. Both oppressors and the oppressed publicly shed tears on recollecting the tragedy of the past and in the process helped the wider society achieve a beneficial certain moral catharsis. In recognition of his unique contributions to world history as a man of peace and a unique moral force in his own country, Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.