Desmond Tutu, icon of the anti-apartheid struggle, passed away at 90

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the conscience of South Africa but also playfulness and powerful laughter, died Sunday at the age of 90.

He is the last of this generation of icons of the struggle against apartheid: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the conscience of South Africa but also playfulness and powerful laughter, died Sunday at the age of 90. Until his last breath, the Nobel Peace Prize winner imposed his small round silhouette and his legendary outspokenness to denounce injustices and chip away at all powers, whatever they may be. President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed « on behalf of all South Africans his deep sorrow at the death » of this « unrivaled patriot », a key figure in South African history, announcing the news in the morning.

His death « is a new chapter of mourning in our nation’s farewell to a generation of exceptional South Africans who left us a liberated South Africa, » added the president. « A man of extraordinary intelligence, upright and invincible against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under the apartheid, and for the oppressed and for the oppressors around the world, ”Ramaphosa recalled. After the advent of democracy in 1994, and the election of his friend Nelson Mandela as head of the country, Tutu, who gave South Africa the nickname « Rainbow Nation », had presided over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which, he hoped, would help turn the page on racial hatred.

The Arch, as it was affectionately known by South Africans, had been weakened for several months. He no longer spoke in public but greeted the cameras present at each of his travels, smiling or mischievous glance, during his vaccination against the Covid in a hospital or recently, in October, during the religious service in Cape Town to celebrate his 90 year.

« Immeasurable » loss

In mourning, South African cricketers wore a black armband on the first day of a major competition against India near Johannesburg. « We mourn his passing, » responded the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, speaking on behalf of all people of faith « and, I dare say it, millions of people in South Africa, in Africa and in the world « . “As Christians and believers, we must also celebrate the life of a deeply spiritual man whose alpha and omega were his relationship with our Creator,” he added.

« He feared no one (…) He challenged the systems which demeaned humanity », he recalled. But « when the perpetrators of evil experienced a real change of heart, he followed the example of his Lord and was ready to forgive. » The Mandela Foundation reacted quickly, calling his loss « immeasurable »: « He was larger than life, and for so many in South Africa and around the world his life was a blessing … was an amazing human being. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd. « 

Desmond Tutu had acquired his notoriety during the worst hours of the racist apartheid regime. While a priest, he organized peaceful marches against segregation and pleaded for international sanctions against the white regime in Pretoria. Unlike many other fighters, only her dress spares her prison. His non-violent fight was crowned with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. After the end of apartheid, faithful to his commitments, he had become the slayer of the excesses of the ANC government, criticizing the mistakes of the former president Thabo Mbeki in the fight against AIDS but also corruption.

In 2013, he even promised never to vote again for the party that triumphed over apartheid. « I did not fight to drive out people who thought they were junk gods and replace them with others who think they are too, » he lamented. Before his death, the last time the country heard from him was on November 1. Out of sight, he had voted in the last local elections.

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