Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, who became a leading force in ending the country’s racist apartheid system in the 1990s, died on Sunday at age 90.
His death was confirmed by the office of South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, who praised Tutu as “a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead.”
Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, became one of the most prominent critics of South Africa’s policy of racial segregation and discrimination overseen by a white minority government against the country’s Black majority from 1948 until 1991.
He was a strong advocate for economic sanctions against the country to force sweeping changes that ultimately came under FW De Klerk, the country’s last apartheid-era leader who shared a 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela and who died last month at age 85.
After Mandela’s 1994 election as South Africa’s first Black president, Tutu was named to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate crimes during the apartheid era and became a leading advocate for a peaceful grappling with the country’s history of racism and discrimination.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation praised Tutu as an extraordinary human being. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd” and noted that his “contributions to struggles against injustice, locally and globally, are matched only by the depth of his thinking about the making of liberatory futures for human societies.”
A charismatic figure known for his effervescent personality and stirring preaching style, Tutu became a global celebrity who commanded a moral authority. His efforts on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are credited with averting major violence as South Africa shifted to Black rule, and he also became a forceful critic of the corruption and mismanagement of post-Mandela leaders of the dominant African National Congress party.