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Definition: Desmond Mpilo Tutu (1931– ) from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Having looked the past in the eye, having asked for forgiveness and having made amends, let us shut the door on the past – not in order to forget it but in order not to allow it to imprison us.

In his foreword to the report of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission; Daily Telegraph, 30 October 1998

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Tutu, Desmond Mpilo


Summary Article: Tutu, Desmond (1931–)
From Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice

Desmond Tutu, born on October 7, 1931, is the former archbishop of the Anglican Church in Capetown, South Africa, and winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his work against apartheid. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was one of the most important and beloved religious leaders of the 20th century and remains a tireless advocate for human rights as a teacher, author, and speaker.

Born in Klerksdorp, in the South African state of Transvaal, Tutu moved with his family to Johannesburg at age 12. Tutu’s father was a teacher and his mother was a domestic servant. Although he wanted to become a physician, his family could not afford to send him to medical school and he decided to follow his father into teaching. Tutu attended the Pretoria Bantu Normal College from 1951 through 1953 and graduated from the University of South Africa in 1954. Tutu went on to teach at Johannesburg Bantu High School where he remained until 1957. Tutu resigned in protest following the passage of the Bantu Education Act, one of a series of legislative acts that comprised the system of apartheid. Determined to assist those who had been disenfranchised, Tutu decided to become a priest. Tutu was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1960 and continued his studies in England from 1962 to 1966 and earned a master’s degree in theology.

In 1975, Tutu became the first black African to serve as dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in ohannesburg, and from 1976 to 1978 he was bishop of Lesotho. In 1978, he became the first black general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, a position which gave him the platform to denounce the inhumane system of racial segregation and discrimination known as apartheid. His efforts on behalf of nonviolent resistance to apartheid led to his selection as the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner. In presenting the award to Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize selection committee cited a remarkable incident that speaks to Tutu’s unrelenting belief in the power of nonviolence. When innocent women and children were killed in a massacre in a suburb of Johannesburg, Tutu stood among the angry victims and demanded that hatred cease and that the victims should be permitted a peaceful path to freedom. In 1986, Desmond Tutu was elected archbishop of Cape Town. He was the first black African to serve in this position, which placed him in the leadership of the Anglican Church in South Africa.

After the fall of apartheid in 1994, Tutu was asked by former South African President Nelson Mandela to lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a committee designed to investigate the abuses that took place under apartheid. After 4 years of hearing testimony, the commission concluded that apartheid represented a crime against humanity. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission now serves as a model for communities seeking to heal from injustices stemming from racial, religious, and ethnic discrimination. In his 1999 book, No Future Without Forgiveness, Tutu applied to everyone the lessons learned in this process when he asserted that whole relationships are necessary within families and in friendships and that restoration, not retribution, is the method for healing.

    See also
  • African National Congress; Anti-Apartheid Movement; Mandela, Nelson; Nonviolence and Activism; Spirituality and Peacemaking

Further Readings
  • Du Boulay, S. (1988). Tutu: Voice of the voiceless. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  • Tutu, D. (1994). The rainbow people of God: The making of a peaceful revolution. New York: Doubleday.
  • Tutu, D. (1999). No future without forgiveness. New York: Doubleday.
  • Thomas Mogan
    Copyright © 2007 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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