EWING, New Jersey – Desmond Tutu, a committed social activist, and the first black archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, has been involved in the fight for human rights his entire life, starting with his stiff resistance and vocal opposition to apartheid in South Africa.
Characterizing South Africa’s governmental polices from 1948 to 1994, apartheid was a system of governance that enforced the strict segregation of races and severely discriminated against black South Africans. Meaning “separateness” in Afrikaans, the apartheid system of governance lead to the creation of separate public facilities for the races and deprived black South Africans of the right to vote.
In 1958, black South Africans were even deprived of their citizenship. It was a time that lead to the marginalization of those that weren’t white, as these individuals found themselves denied of a good education and restricted from affairs of the state, as well as inhibited from owning land.
Born October 7, 1931 in Klerksdorp, in the Transvaal state of South Africa, Desmond Tutu came to life 17 years prior to the enforcement of apartheid across the nation. In 1945, he began secondary school at Western high, a government secondary school in the Western Native Township.
Tutu attempted to continue his education by becoming a medical physician; however, due to a lack of finances, Tutu instead went to school for teaching.
Enrolling at Bantu Normal College, Tutu graduated in 1954 with a teaching diploma. In 1955, he would further receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Africa and married his wife, Normaliza Leah Shenxane.
His life as a teacher however, ended prematurely when, after three years of teaching, he quit due to the government’s heightened repression of black education in South Africa as a result of the Bantu Education Act of 1953.
The stated aim of the Bantu Education Act was to inhibit Africans from receiving an education that would lead them to aspire to positions they weren’t allowed to possess in South African society. Instead black Africans under this law were to receive an education that would gear them towards a lifetime of work in manual labor under the supervision and instruction of whites.
It effectively separated the educational systems for black and white children, with black children’s being far inferior. It was a law that disadvantaged millions, as after its implementation, it became a cornerstone of South African apartheid.
After leaving his teaching career, Tutu turned to religion as a profession. Baptized as a Methodist, Tutu and his family were Anglicans by 1943. And it was in the Anglican faith that he would be ordained as a sub-deacon in Krugersdorp. In 1958, he enrolled at St. Peters Theological College in Rosettenville where he excelled and, subsequently, was named a deacon in 1960 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg.
Throughout the 1960’s, Tutu continued his religious education both in South Africa, and abroad in England where he earned his master’s degree in theology in 1966. After teaching theology in South Africa for five more years, Tutu returned to England to work as an assistant director at the World Council of Churches in London.
In 1975 he became the first black African to serve as Dean of St. May’s Cathedral in Johannesburg. From here he went on to be the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches.
In this position, he showed himself to be a consistent advocate against apartheid, which he termed “evil and unchristian.” He used his prominent position to advocate for a common education system, equal rights for all South African’s regardless of their hue and an end to the forced relocation, which the government had inflicted on the black population years earlier.
As a vocal critic, Tutu encouraged nonviolent resistance to the government, and called for an international economic boycott of the country as long as it adhered to apartheid.
In response to this, the government revoked his passport to prevent Tutu from traveling and raising awareness around the world. Despite this, Tutu would continue to draw international attention to the inherent inequalities and inhumanities of apartheid.
In 1984 he received a Nobel Peace Prize for his continued efforts against apartheid and raising international awareness about its injustices. And in 1986 he was elected to be the Archbishop of Cape Town, placing him at the head of the Anglican Church in South Africa. He was the first the black South African to hold this post.
In 1994, after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and his following election to the presidency of South Africa, Tutu was named chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where he investigated human rights violations of the previous decades.
In 2007, after retiring as Archbishop in 1996, he became a member of The Elders, a group of world leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela that work for peace, justice and human rights across the world. Together with Jimmy Carter, Tutu has traveled to Gaza, Cyprus and Darfur in attempts to resolve the respective conflicts afflicting those areas. He also won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, the highest civilian honor given out in the United States for his efforts for the betterment of the world and humanity.
Recently Tutu has been in the news for critiquing Israel’s use of force in the recent and ongoing crisis between Israel and Palestine, as well as coming out in favor of assisted dying.
Once saying “Do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world,” Desmond Tutu, in summation, is a person who has more than done his little bit of good in the world. He is an individual that serves to remind everyone of the potential global impact that a single person can have for the betterment of the world.
– Albert Cavallaro
Sources: Tutu, Achievement, The Guardian, Citizen, SA History, Nelson Mandelas
Photo: Templeton Prize