Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African Truth and Reconciliation Firebrand, Dies at 90

“You are overwhelmed by the extent of evil,” he said. But, he added, it was necessary to open the wound to cleanse it. In return for an honest accounting of past crimes, the committee offered amnesty, establishing what Archbishop Tutu called the principle of restorative — rather than retributive — justice.

His credibility was crucial to the commission’s efforts to get former members of the South African security forces and former guerrilla fighters to cooperate with the inquiry.

Even after the anti-apartheid movement succeeded, and after Nelson Mandela became the first Black South African president of the country, Archbishop Tutu continued to speak truth to power, calling out injustice, corruption, and poor leadership. The Archbishop was unfailingly consistent in pointing out wrongs where wrongs existed, and never separated his pastoral stance from his political leanings.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born on Oct. 7, 1931, to a domestic worker and a Methodist school teacher. As a young boy, Desmond was baptized a Methodist, but later the entire family became a part of the Anglican Church.

Tutu’s life was greatly influenced, and very well may have been saved, by the Rev. Trevor Huddleston, a white man who was also a prominent campaigner against apartheid. Tutu was hospitalized with tuberculosis and Rev. Huddleston visited him almost every day. Tutu recovered from this life-threatening bout of illness, and at first wanted to become a doctor. However, the family could not afford the tuition for such schooling. So, Tutu became a teacher instead, pursuing studies at the Pretoria Bantu Normal College before receiving a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Africa. Tutu taught high school for three years, but resigned in protest to the Bantu Education Act, which lowered education standards for Black students.

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