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Desmond Tutu, whose voice helped slay apartheid, dies at 90

By Marilyn Berger


Desmond Tutu, the cleric who used his pulpit and spirited oratory to help bring down apartheid in South Africa and then became the leading advocate of peaceful reconciliation under Black majority rule, died Sunday in Cape Town. He was 90.


His death was confirmed by the office of South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who called the archbishop “a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead.”


As leader of the South African Council of Churches and later as Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Tutu led the church to the forefront of Black South Africans’ decades-long struggle for freedom. His voice was a powerful force for nonviolence in the anti-apartheid movement, earning him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.


When that movement triumphed in the early 1990s, he prodded the country toward a new relationship between its white and Black citizens, and, as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he gathered testimony documenting the viciousness of apartheid.


“You are overwhelmed by the extent of evil,” he said. But, he added, it was necessary to open the wound to cleanse it. In return for an honest accounting of past crimes, the committee offered amnesty, establishing what Tutu called the principle of restorative — rather than retributive — justice.


His credibility was crucial to the commission’s efforts to get former members of the South African security forces and former guerrilla fighters to cooperate with the inquiry.

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