Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist for racial justice and LGBT rights, has died aged 90.
Announcing the death, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said it was “another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa”.
He is probably the best known figure internationally to oppose apartheid, along with Nelson Mandela. Tutu worked tirelessly and peacefully for its downfall.
During the 1980s, when the ruling party cracked down on opposition forces, Tutu twice had his passport revoked and was jailed following a protest march.
Throughout his life Tutu was a tireless campaigner for human rights, continuing his work long after South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.
He campaigned against HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, poverty, racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.
His relationship with Mandela ran deep, having introduced the future president to the crowds on the Grand Parade in Cape Town in February 1990 following his release from prison.
The clergyman used his pulpit as the first black bishop of Johannesburg and later Archbishop of Cape Town as well as frequent public demonstrations to galvanise public opinion against racial inequity both at home and globally.
Mr Ramaphosa added: “From the pavements of resistance in South Africa to the pulpits of the world’s great cathedrals and places of worship, and the prestigious setting of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the arch distinguished himself as a non-sectarian, inclusive champion of universal human rights.”
Tutu had been treated in hospital several times since 2015, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997.
In recent years, he and his wife Leah lived in a retirement community outside Cape Town.
Throughout the 1980s – when South Africa was gripped by anti-apartheid violence and a state of emergency giving police and the military sweeping powers – Tutu was one of the most prominent blacks able to speak out against abuses.
A lively wit lightened his hard-hitting messages and warmed otherwise grim protests, funerals and marches.
Short, plucky, tenacious, he was a formidable force, and apartheid leaders learned not to discount his canny talent for quoting apt scriptures to harness righteous support for change.
The Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 highlighted his stature as one of the world’s most effective champions for human rights, a responsibility he took seriously for the rest of his life.
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With the end of apartheid and South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, Tutu celebrated the country’s multi-racial society, calling it a “rainbow nation” – a phrase that captured the heady optimism of the moment.