President Cyril Ramaphosa has described the day of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s passing as one of the saddest of days in the nation’s history.
The 90-year-old social justice champion passed away in Cape Town on Sunday, 26 December 2021.
Affectionately known as “The Arch” to millions across the world, Tutu’s life was punctuated by his intense passion for human rights – displayed by his outspoken nature against the Apartheid government and by his tireless campaigning for the downtrodden people of the world.
In his address to the nation following Tutu’s death, President Ramaphosa said the clergyman was one of South Africa’s finest patriots.
“We have lost a person who carried the burden of leadership with compassion, with dignity, with humility and with such good humour. We are comforted in the knowledge that he has left an indelible mark in the lives of the millions of people who had the privilege and honour of knowing him,” the President said.
The struggle icon not only fought the racist Apartheid regime from the pulpit where he preached but also took the fight against racial segregation to the streets by leading protests and acts of civil disobedience against the apartheid government.
“Like many of his time, he was a witness to the gravest injustices and the most intolerable cruelty. In his ministry, in his struggle against apartheid, and as Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), he saw the depths to which human beings could descend in the subjugation of others. And yet, his faith in humanity, like his faith in God, was unwavering,” President Ramaphosa said.
Tutu’s firm stance on non-violence and dedication to the struggle against Apartheid despite immense pressure from the racist regime earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
This, President Ramaphosa said, is a testament of Tutu’s devotion to transformation and advancing social justice.
“It was an honour that he accepted not for himself, but for all South Africans who stood for freedom, for peace and for justice. And it was in receiving this great honour in Oslo that he said: ‘There is no peace because there is no justice.’ It was a fundamental principle to which he held throughout his life. It is a principle to which we must remain true as we mourn his passing.
“Our country will not know the peace we seek until all have justice, until all have a place to sleep and enough to eat, until all children have an education, until all women feel safe in their homes and on our streets,” he said.
In post-Apartheid, Tutu was appointed as chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) where he led the country through a process of truth telling, reconciliation of differing parties, helping to heal the wounds of the nation and forgiveness.
At the end of the TRC, Tutu turned his attention to speaking out and fighting against social ills such as xenophobia, homophobia and the spread of HIV and Aids.
President Ramaphosa praised Tutu for his continued dedication to the upliftment of others.
“His brave and often critical voice lost none of its vigour when apartheid ended. He continued his work as a tireless campaigner for the rights of the oppressed. He was frank and forthright, speaking truth to power, even when this meant criticising the democratic government.
“May we follow in his footsteps. May we too be worthy inheritors of the mantle of service, of selflessness, of courage, and of principled solidarity with the poor and marginalised,” the President said.