Desmond Mpilo Tutu | Western Cape Government

Desmond Mpilo Tutu

(Western Cape Government)
Desmond Tutu was born in Klerksdorp in 1931 and is the son of a schoolteacher and a domestic worker.

The year 1958 was to prove a watershed year for Tutu. Following the introduction of what was formally known as Bantu education, Tutu decided to leave his teaching career and enter the ministry. Tutu attended St Peter's Theological College in Rosettenville where he received his Licentiate in Theology in 1960 and was ordained to the priesthood in Johannesburg in 1961.

Subsequently, he dedicated himself wholeheartedly to this new calling by furthering his studies at the University of London, United Kingdom, where he received his Bachelor of Divinity Honours and Master of Theology degrees whilst a part-time curate in a local parish. In 1967, he returned to South Africa and joined the staff of the Federal Theological Seminary in Alice and became chaplain at the University of Fort Hare.

The year 1975 proved to be another important year in the life of Desmond Tutu as he was ordained the Dean of St Mary's Cathedral, Johannesburg, and was soon elected Bishop of Lesotho. In 1975, South Africa was on the brink of major political upheaval and it was in this environment that Tutu was appointed to the post of General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC).

The SACC represented all the major Christian churches in South Africa, apart from the Dutch Reformed Church and the Catholic Church. Under Tutu's leadership and guidance, the SACC became a leading institution in South African spiritual and political life that gave voice to the ideals and aspirations of millions of Christians. The period between 1978 and 1985 launched Tutu onto the national and international stage as the SACC was at the forefront of helping those who were disenfranchised by apartheid.

Desmond Tutu and the SACC became inexorably linked as he became the unofficial leader of the crusade for justice and racial conciliation in South Africa. In 1984, his contribution to the cause of racial justice in South Africa was recognised when he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1985, Bishop Tutu was elected Bishop of Johannesburg. In this capacity he once again proved to be an agent for change as he promoted unity between black and white Anglicans in South Africa. In 1986, he was elected Archbishop of Cape Town, which demonstrated a vote of confidence in the abilities of Bishop Tutu to stand at the forefront of the crusade for justice and reconciliation on behalf of the Anglican Church of South Africa and people of other denominations and faiths. In 1987, he was elected as President of the All Africa Conference of Churches.

In 1995, due in no small part to his promotion of justice and reconciliation, President Nelson Mandela appointed Archbishop Tutu to chair South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC was specifically set up to probe gross human rights violations between 1960 and the President's inauguration in 1994. Archbishop Tutu and his fellow Commissioners presented the Commission's Preliminary Report to the President in October 1998.

Bishop Tutu retired from office as Archbishop of Cape Town in June 1996, but was named Archbishop Emeritus (an honorary title) from July 1996. Despite this, he remains active in the pursuit of social justice and development, illustrated by the establishment of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre and the Desmond Tutu Leadership Awards Program. He also undertook a sabbatical at Emory University in Atlanta where he was invited as the William R Cannon Professor of Theology at the Candler School of Theology.

Archbishop Tutu holds honorary degrees from universities such as Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and Yale. In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, he has also been honoured by the Order of Meritorious Service Award presented by President Mandela, the Archbishop of Canterbury's Award for outstanding Service to the Anglican Communion and the Martin Luther King Jr Non-Violent Peace Prize among others.

Information retrieved 26/11/2003 from

The content on this page was last updated on 15 March 2014