Desmond Tutu is best known for his vigorous activism during apartheid in his native South Africa , for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. While he is an Anglican Archbishop Emeritus and steadfast in his religious beliefs, Tutu places great value on religious inclusiveness and interfaith dialogue.
Bishop Desmond Tutu was born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal . His father was a teacher, and he himself was educated at Johannesburg Bantu High School .
After leaving school he trained first as a teacher at Pretoria Bantu Normal College and in 1954 he graduated from the University of South Africa . After three years as a high school teacher he began to study theology, being ordained as a priest in 1960. Following further theological studies in London , Tutu held several positions in teaching and theological work in South and southern Africa . Then, in 1978, he was persuaded to leave his job as Bishop of Lesotho to become the new General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC).
In this position, which he held until 1985, Tutu became a national and international figure. The SACC is committed to fulfilling the social responsibility of the Church, and as its chairperson, Tutu has led a formidable crusade in support of justice and racial conciliation in South Africa . In this position Tutu encouraged non-violent resistance to the apartheid regime, and advocated an economic boycott of the country. Following a short stint as the Bishop of Johannesburg, Tutu was elected Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986, an office he held until his retirement in 1996.
In 1984, Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, “not only as a gesture of support to him and to the South African Council of Churches of which he is leader, but also to all individuals and groups in South Africa who, with their concern for human dignity, fraternity and democracy, incite the admiration of the world.”
International economic pressure and internal dissent forced the South African government to reform. In 1990, Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress was released after almost 27 years in prison. The following year the government began the repeal of racially discriminatory laws.
After the fall of apartheid, Tutu became a key mediator in the difficult transition toward democracy. In 1996, he was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body set up to probe gross human rights violations during apartheid. As always, the Archbishop counselled forgiveness and cooperation, rather than revenge for past injustice. In 1996 he retired as Archbishop of Cape Town and was named Archbishop Emeritus.
Published collections of his speeches, sermons and other writings include Crying in the Wilderness, Hope and Suffering, and The Rainbow People of God.
On July 18, 2007 in Johannesburg , South Africa , Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu convened a group of world leaders to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world's toughest problems. Nelson Mandela announced the formation of this new group, The Elders, in a speech he delivered on the occasion of his 89th birthday.
Archbishop Tutu serves as the Chair of The Elders. The founding members of this group also include Graça Machel, Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Li Zhaoxing, Mary Robinson and Muhammad Yunus.
“This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken,” Mandela commented. “Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair.”
He has set up a private office in Cape Town , near his home. Tutu is an honorary doctor of a number of leading universities in the USA , Britain and Germany.