Anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu dies aged 90

South African clergyman was a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a veteran of the nation's struggle against white minority rule

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won a Nobel Prize for his role in helping to end Apartheid in South Africa, died on Sunday morning in Cape Town. He was 90.

“South Africa and the world have lost one of the great spirits and moral giants of our age,” the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation said.

“Tutu was a living embodiment of faith in action, speaking boldly against racism, injustice, corruption and oppression, not just in apartheid South Africa but wherever in the world he saw wrongdoing, especially when it affected the most vulnerable and voiceless in society.”

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa called Tutu “a patriot without equal”.

“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,” Mr Ramaphosa said.

"He [Desmond Tutu] articulated the universal outrage at the ravages of apartheid and touchingly and profoundly demonstrated the depth of meaning of ubuntu, reconciliation and forgiveness."

Tutu made history and gained international recognition after becoming Johannesburg’s first black Anglican dean in 1975. He was appointed as archbishop in 1986.

The outspoken archbishop was considered the nation's conscience by both black and white, an enduring testament to his faith and spirit of reconciliation in a divided nation.

He had prostate cancer diagnosed in the late 1990s and in recent years was admitted to hospital on several occasions to treat infections associated with his cancer treatment.

Former US president Barack Obama, the country's first Black leader, hailed Tutu as a towering figure and "moral compass".

"A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere," Mr Obama said.

Mourners gathered at his former parish in Cape Town, St George's Cathedral, while others assembled at his home, some holding flower bouquets, according to an AFP journalist.

"If it was not for him, probably we would have been lost as a country," said Miriam Mokwadi, a 67-year-old retired nurse, outside the cathedral.

The South African cricket team wore black armbands in his honour on the first day of the opening Test against India at Centurion Park, near Johannesburg.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said Tutu had "inspired a generation of African leaders who embraced his non-violent approaches in the liberation struggle".

European leaders joined the chorus, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling him a "critical figure" in the struggle to create a new South Africa and French President Emmanuel Macron saying Tutu had "dedicated his life to human rights and equality".

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II recalled the "great warmth and humour" of the late cleric.

"Archbishop Tutu's loss will be felt by the people of South Africa, and by so many people in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and across the Commonwealth, where he was held in such high affection and esteem."

The Vatican said Pope Francis was saddened and offered "heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones".

The Nelson Mandela foundation issued a condolatory statement, calling the loss “immeasurable”.

Tutu and Mandela met in the 1950s for the first time before once again coming together 40 years later upon Mandela’s release from prison where he spent the first night out of jail in Tutu’s home in Cape Town.

“There was a light, almost teasing quality, to their relationship. They relentlessly poked fun at each other’s preferred attire, for instance – Mandela wearing his Madiba shirts and the Arch his robes. But they also collaborated on a number of important initiatives,” the Mandela foundation said.

Mandela appointed Tutu as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a body that investigated human rights abuses that took place during apartheid.

In 1984, Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent opposition to apartheid. A decade later, he witnessed the end of that regime.

For many years Tutu served as president of The Elders, an international NGO made up of statesmen, peace advocates and human rights activists set up by Mandela in 2007.

Mandela, who died in 2013, once said that his great friend was “sometimes strident, never afraid and seldom without humour”.

Under his goal for “a democratic and just society without racial divisions”, Tutu continued his work until retirement from public life in 2010.

He made his most recent, albeit rare, public appearance on October 7 for his 90th birthday, which took place at a church service in Cape Town. The Dalai Lama and Mandela’s widow Graca Machel joined the celebrations.

A seven-day mourning period is planned in Cape Town before Tutu’s burial, including a two-day lying in state, an ecumenical service and an Anglican requiem mass at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, according to church officials.

Cape Town’s landmark Table Mountain will be lit in purple, the colour of the robes Tutu wore as archbishop.

Updated: December 26, 2021, 7:01 PM