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

'Desmond Tutu was a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead.'

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa's anti-apartheid hero, dies at 90
Cover Image Source: The Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu at the offices of The Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation on November 30, 2015, in Cape Town, South Africa. (Chris Radburn - WPA Pool /Getty Images)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Anglican cleric and veteran of South Africa's struggle against apartheid, has died at the age of 90. In a statement confirming his death on Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his condolences to Tutu's family and friends, reports NBC News. "The passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa," Ramaphosa said in the statement. "Desmond Tutu was a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead."


"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," the president said of Tutu, who was widely revered as his nation's conscience, reports CNN. The first Black bishop of Johannesburg and later the first Black Archbishop of Cape Town, Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the late 1990s. In 2013, he underwent tests for a persistent infection and was hospitalized on several occasions in recent years.


"Ultimately, at the age of 90, he died peacefully at the Oasis Frail Care Centre in Cape Town this morning," Dr. Ramphela Mamphele said in a statement on behalf of the Tutu family, without disclosing details on the cause of death. Affectionately known as "the Arch," Tutu was one of the most prominent voices in exhorting the South African government to end apartheid, the country's official policy of racial segregation. Using the pulpit to preach and galvanize public opinion against the injustice faced by the country's Black majority, he became a vocal activist for racial justice and LGBTQ rights both in South Africa and across the world.


When the long-imprisoned Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years in 1990, he spent his first night of freedom at Tutu’s residence in Cape Town. After apartheid ended and Mandela became the nation's first Black president, Tutu was named chair of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission that laid bare the terrible truths of white minority rule in South Africa. "He was larger than life, and for so many in South Africa and around the world his life has been a blessing," the Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a statement after Tutu's death.


"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," the statement added. "He was an extraordinary human being. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd." Even after the fall of the apartheid regime, Tutu never wavered in his fight for a fairer South Africa and continued to hold the country's new Black leaders accountable. The Anglican cleric received prominent honors from around the world for his civil and human rights, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former US President Barack Obama in 2009.


Calling Tutu a "mentor, a friend, and a moral compass" in a statement after his death, Obama said: "Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere. He never lost his impish sense of humor and willingness to find humanity in his adversaries." In 2012, Tutu received a $1 million grant by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for "his lifelong commitment to speaking truth to power" and the following year, he was awarded the Templeton Prize for his "life-long work in advancing spiritual principles such as love and forgiveness which has helped to liberate people around the world." Although Tutu largely retired from public life in 2010, he regretted that his dream of a "rainbow nation" had yet to come true. Tutu is survived by his wife of 66 years, Leah, and their four children.


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