Desmond Mpilo Tutu was a South African Anglican bishop and theologian, known for his work as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist. He was Bishop of Johannesburg from 1985 to 1986 and then Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 to 1996, in both cases being the first black African to hold the position. Theologically, he sought to fuse ideas from black theology with African theology. In 1960, he was ordained as an Anglican priest and in 1962, he moved to the United Kingdom to study theology at King’s College London.
In 1966 he returned to Africa, teaching at the Federal Theological Seminary in South Africa, and then the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. In 1972, he became the Theological Education Fund’s director for Africa, a position based in London but necessitating regular tours of the African continent. Back in southern Africa in 1975, he served first as dean of St Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg and then as Bishop of Lesotho. From 1978 to 1985, Tutu served as the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches.
He emerged as one of the most prominent opponents of South Africa’s apartheid system of racial segregation and white minority rule. Although warning the National Party government that anger at apartheid would lead to racial violence, as an activist he stressed non-violent protest and foreign economic pressure to bring about universal suffrage. In 1985, Tutu became Bishop of Johannesburg and in 1986 the Archbishop of Cape Town, the most senior position in southern Africa’s Anglican hierarchy.
In this position, he emphasised a consensus-building model of leadership and oversaw the introduction of female priests. Also in 1986, he became president of the All Africa Conference of Churches, resulting in further tours of the continent. After President F. W. de Klerk released the anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the pair led negotiations to end apartheid and introduce multi-racial democracy, Tutu assisted as a mediator between rival black factions.
After the 1994 general election resulted in a coalition government headed by Mandela, the latter selected Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses committed by both pro and anti-apartheid groups. Following apartheid’s fall, Tutu campaigned for gay rights and spoke out on a wide range of subjects, among them his support of Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (alongside his simultaneous belief in Israel’s right to exist), his opposition to the Iraq War, and his criticism of South African presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.
In 2010, he retired from public life. As Tutu rose to prominence in the 1970s, different socio-economic groups and political classes held a wide range of views about him, from critical to admiring. He was popular among South Africa’s black majority and was internationally praised for his work involving anti-apartheid activism, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize and other international awards. He also compiled several books of his speeches and sermons.
Some of the best quotes from Desmond Tutu are listed below.
- “A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons.” – Desmond Tutu
- “As human beings we have the most extraordinary capacity for evil. We can perpetrate some of the most horrendous atrocities.” – Desmond Tutu
- “Be nice to whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity.” – Desmond Tutu
- “Because forgiveness is like this: a room can be dank because you have closed the windows, you’ve closed the curtains. But the sun is shining outside, and the air is fresh outside. In order to get that fresh air, you have to get up and open the window and draw the curtains apart.” – Desmond Tutu
- “Children are a wonderful gift. They have an extraordinary capacity to see into the heart of things and to expose sham and humbug for what they are.” – Desmond Tutu
- “Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another.” – Desmond Tutu
- “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Desmond Tutu
- “Exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths to freedom and justice.” – Desmond Tutu
- “Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.” – Desmond Tutu
- “Freedom and liberty lose out by default because good people are not vigilant.” – Desmond Tutu
- “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu
- “I am a leader by default, only because nature does not allow a vacuum.” – Desmond Tutu
- “I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.” – Desmond Tutu
- “I certainly know that I would not be able to survive if it were not for the fact that I am being upheld by the prayers of so many people.” – Desmond Tutu
- “I think that most of us would prefer to be popular than unpopular.” – Desmond Tutu
- “I wish I could shut up, but I can’t, and I won’t.” – Desmond Tutu
- “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu
- “If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” – Desmond Tutu
- “My father used to say, don’t raise your voice; improve your argument.” – Desmond Tutu
- “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human.” – Desmond Tutu
- “The minute you got the Nobel Peace Prize, things that I said yesterday, with nobody paying too much attention, I say the same things after I got it – oh! It was quite crucial for people, and it helped our morale because apartheid did look invincible.” – Desmond Tutu
- “Universal education is not only a moral imperative but an economic necessity, to pave the way toward making many more nations self-sufficient and self-sustaining.” – Desmond Tutu
- “We are each made for goodness, love and compassion. Our lives are transformed as much as the world is when we live with these truths.” – Desmond Tutu
- “We learn from history that we don’t learn from history!” – Desmond Tutu
- “We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.” – Desmond Tutu
- “When a pile of cups is tottering on the edge of the table and you warn that they will crash to the ground, in South Africa you are blamed when that happens.” – Desmond Tutu
- “When we see the face of a child, we think of the future. We think of their dreams about what they might become, and what they might accomplish.” – Desmond Tutu
- “Without forgiveness, there is no future.” – Desmond Tutu
- “You don’t choose your family, they are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” – Desmond Tutu
- “You stand out in the crowd only because you have these many, many carrying you on their shoulders.” – Desmond Tutu
- “Your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.” – Desmond Tutu
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