Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending apartheid, South Africa’s unfair system of white dominance, died today in Cape Town, according to the country’s president, Cryil Ramaphosa. Tutu was 90 years old when he died.
Ramaphosa stated: “[A] leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead.”
Tutu died of cancer, according to the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, and he died at a care facility. In 1997, the archbishop was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and he has been admitted to the hospital several times since then.
Archbishop Tutu brought the church to the vanguard of Black South Africa’s decades-long struggle for independence as the leader of the South African Council of Churches and then as the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town. In the anti-apartheid struggle, his voice was a significant force for nonviolence, earning him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
When that movement won in the early 1990s, he pushed the country toward a new relationship between white and black residents, and as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he gathered testimony documenting apartheid’s heinousness.
“You are overwhelmed by the extent of evil,” he said. However, he explained, the wound has to be opened in order to be cleansed. The committee granted amnesty in exchange for an honest accounting of past atrocities, establishing what Archbishop Tutu called the notion of restorative — rather than retributive — justice.
His credibility was vital in the commission’s efforts to elicit cooperation from former members of the South African security forces and former guerrilla fighters.
Apartheid, according to Archbishop Tutu, was as degrading to the oppressors as it was to the afflicted. At home, he spoke out against impending violence and attempted to bridge the divide between black and white South Africans; internationally, he advocated for economic penalties against the South African government in order to compel a policy shift.