By Olivia Kemp
The passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the 26th December 2021 has left the world in a state of mourning. He was a man of words and action; a man who unremittingly confronted oppressors, and a man who embodied notions of hope and peace. I do not use such nouns lightly, for such were the foundations of his life and the causes for which he fought tirelessly.
‘Peace’ is the word most consistently associated with the character and achievements of this remarkable and inspiring man. In 1984 Tutu was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize for his fearlessly non-violent stance in opposition to South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime. Despite brutal attacks committed against the black population – such as the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 and the Soweto uprising of 1976 – Tutu adhered to his non-violent strategy, and contributed to the dismantling of the apartheid regime with ‘unbloody force’. His opposition to apartheid was unequivocal; whilst his speeches were infused with rage, he fundamentally preached peace. Using the pulpit to project his staunch opposition to the tyranny of apartheid, Tutu articulated the suffering of the oppressed masses in such a way that allowed for the eventual extraordinary peaceful exchange of power in South Africa.
Yet it is essential to recognise that Tutu’s non-violent struggle against injustice did not cease with the ending of apartheid in South Africa. His cause did not discriminate; his battle was not confined to one country. Tutu championed the causes of peace and equality globally, as he coined the phrase ‘rainbow nation’. This radiated a vision of a multiracial society in which all communities may live together without discrimination. As a staunch believer that harmony was the cure for all injustice, such racial reconciliation was at the core of Tutu’s aims. On a broad level, then, he used his moral prestige to promote the inherent rights, the human dignity and the ultimate equality of humankind.
Tutu was also a vocal ally of the LGBT community. At the launch of a UN campaign against discrimination in 2013, he declared that he ‘oppose[d] such injustice with the same passion that [he] opposed apartheid’. He noted that he would ‘refuse to go to a homophobic heaven’, and would much rather ‘go to the other place’ than worship a ‘God who is homophobic’. Such an unfaltering defence of LGBT rights has embroidered Tutu within history as a man who truly was the defender of the oppressed. His prayers and speeches with regard to LGBT rights have altered generations of perceptions worldwide; his uncompromising stand for justice remains as powerful today as ever before.
Tutu also consistently championed causes of environmentalism, and powerfully claimed that the climate emergency is ‘one of the greatest moral challenges of our time’. In 2015 he launched a petition which pressured global leaders to fully transition to renewable sources of energy, and worked tirelessly to encourage the world to join the fight against climate change. Tutu wore the unmistakable stamp of a remarkable and inspirational figure; he not only championed the defeat of injustice, but also the global fight against the climate emergency.
His legacy is tempered with an unwavering fight for equality; this already endures through the formation of The Tutu Foundation. Their mission is to prevent and resolve conflict and to teach young people to mediate, rather than fight, in challenging situations. The Tutu Foundation is particularly focused on confronting the difficulties and injustices arising from over-policing in minority communities. This cause radiates Tutu’s values of tolerance, respect and equality, and is remarkable in its achievements of gaining mutual trust and respect.
Nelson Mandela once characterised Tutu as ‘the voice of the voiceless’; it seems apt to conclude with such words. He was a ‘shepherd of peace’ embodying notions of positivity, passion, courage, and leadership until the very end. He was once an inspiration for a single fragmented nation; but now, his moral reach is global.
He is survived by his wife, children, siblings, and their families, but also in the work of The Tutu Foundation. His spirit will endure in the everyday kindness we show each other. His legacy is a beacon of hope in a darkening world.
Illustration: Verity Laycock