South Africa: Anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu dies at 90

Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon, has died aged 90. Photo: John Stillwell, Pool via AP

Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon, has died aged 90.

South Africa’s retired archbishop Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the late 1990s and, in recent years, was hospitalised on several occasions to treat infections associated with his treatment.

“The passing of archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu is another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

“Ultimately, at the age of 90, he died peacefully at the Oasis Frail Care Centre in Cape Town this morning,” Dr. Ramphela Mamphele, acting chairperson of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu IP Trust and Co-ordinator of the Office of the Archbishop, said in a statement on behalf of the Tutu family.

Tutu, who was described as the moral conscience of his nation, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent opposition to apartheid in 1984.

Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, a farming town in South Africa. The sickly son of a headteacher and a domestic servant, he trained first as a teacher before becoming an Anglican priest. As a cleric, he travelled widely, gaining an MA in theology from London University.

Though he only emerged as a key figure in the liberation struggle in the mid-1970s, he was to have a huge impact, becoming a household name across the globe.

He was the Bishop of Johannesburg from 1985 to 1986 and then the Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 to 1996, in both cases being the first African to hold the position.

After the nation’s first free election in 1994, Nelson Mandela, who had become the president of a free South Africa, asked Tutu to chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the hearings into apartheid-era human rights abuses.

The TRC was described as the “climax of Tutu’s career” and lauded across the world as a pioneering effort to heal deep historic wounds.