Cape Town - All the tributes to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who died aged 90 on Sunday, have referenced his moral strength and moral courage.
Born in Klerksdorp, in what is now the North West province on October 7, 1931, to Zacahriah Tutu and Aletta Mathlare, Desmond Mpilo Tutu began his career as a school teacher in 1954.
He married Leah Shenxane in 1955 and taught at Munsieville High School for three years, before resigning in protest at the Bantu education system – “a corrupted educational system”.
Saying he could not be part of a system that promoted inequality, Tutu went off and trained to join the Anglican church as a priest, and was ordained in December 1961.
His biography on the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation said: “During his career Tutu made every effort to use his platform to challenge and champion the struggles of the victims of apartheid.”
Tutu was revered around the world as a moral giant driven by the principles of tolerance, justice, and equality for all, traits which saw him awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his role in the Struggle against apartheid becoming the second black South African to be listed under Nobel Laureates after Albert Luthuli.
In 1986, the Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa appointed Tutu as the first black Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg, and later Bishop of Cape Town, becoming the first black person to lead the Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa. He was also the president of the All Africa Conference of Churches.
Tutu’s belief in reconciliation in the name of the “Rainbow Nation”, a term he coined, led to him being appointed chairperson of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), mandated to deal with apartheid-era crimes. In 1996 Tutu retired from the church to focus solely on the TRC. He would later be named Archbishop Emeritus for his contribution.
After he retired from the TRC in 1998 Tutu was often called upon to share his advice with those undertaking their own truth and reconciliation processes in post-conflict societies all over the world, from Northern Ireland to Kenya.
Kenyan human rights advocate Makau Mutua, who chaired the task force on the establishment of a Kenyan truth, justice and reconciliation commission, wrote a social media tribute post in which he called Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “the father of truth commissions”.
South Africa's Missing Persons Task Team head Madeleine Fullard posted on Twitter about Tutu’s time at the TRC and said: “One thing Archbishop Tutu understood was the complexity of the physical violence and the deaths that the TRC examined.
"He understood equally well the web of apartheid that violated every aspect of black life and implicated all whites in benefiting from its subjugations.”