Archbishop Desmond Tutu played a critical role in transforming South Africa.
Born in 1931, Tutu grew up in the north-west part of the country and moved to Johannesburg when he was twelve. His father was a teacher and Tutu earned his bachelor’s in teaching from the University of South Africa. He taught for three years, but when the Bantu Education Act passed in 1953 – further segregating schools and turning black education second rate – Tutu left teaching in protest and enrolled in St. Peter’s Theological College.
Tutu rose quickly in the Church and moved to London to pursue his degree in theology. In 1965, he returned to South Africa as Anglican Dean of Johannesburg, the first black to hold this position.
At this time race relations in South Africa reached a turbulent peak. In what would become known as the Soweto Uprisings, hundreds of students were killed for protesting against the inequality of the Apartheid school system.
The world was outraged and many turned to violence, but a voice of peace emerged through Desmond Tutu. Though strongly against the injustices of Apartheid, Tutu spoke out against violent behavior on both sides of the movement and urged both parties to use non-violent means to reach peace.
Tutu traveled throughout Africa and abroad to speak about the inequality of Apartheid and brought South Africa’s struggle to the world’s stage. Like many activists, Tutu had his passport revoked and suffered harassment from the government but his commitment to non-violence was unflinching. In 1984, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his continued resistance against the Apartheid regime.
He was soon appointed Archbishop of Capetown and used his prominence to promote civil disobedience and foreign disinvestment, urging nations to boycott South Africa to financially pressure the government to end Apartheid.
When Nelson Mandela won the post-Apartheid elections of 1994, he appointed Tutu to head the Truth and Reconciliations Commission, a committee created to address the problems decades of segregation inflicted on South Africa. Tutu gained international praise for his fair and forgiving tactics and urged reconciliation over punishment. He is often referred to as South Africa’s moral conscience for his patience and forgiveness.
Today, Tutu promotes human rights throughout the world as an active member of The Elders and The Desmond Tutu Peace Center, and stands as an image of peace throughout the world.