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Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba (left) and Leah Tutu, widow of Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, attend the funeral in St. George's Cathedral.

Peacemaker Desmond Tutu dies, described as “larger than life”

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu who has died at the age of 90, is being remembered for his work for peace, racial reconciliation and his laughter.

One of the primary leaders of the anti-apartheid movement, his death at 90 years of age was confirmed by the South African president’s office on December 26.

South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, is leading the tributes to Tutu, who he described as an iconic spiritual leader, global human rights campaigner and anti-apartheid activist.

“The passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa,” Ramaphosa said across a series of moving tweets.

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Ramaphosa continued: “Desmond Tutu was a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead.

“We pray that Archbishop Tutu’s soul will rest in peace but that his spirit will stand sentry over the future of our nation.”

Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his campaign of non-violent opposition to South Africa’s white minority rule.

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One of his most important roles, though, may not have been ending apartheid but preventing the mass slaughter of millions of white citizens of South Africa as newly-empowered Black leaders called for widespread retribution. Tutu spoke forcefully for reconciliation and his voice was eventually heard but a rift developed between him and the African National Congress who would go on to rule the nation.

Because of the actions of the ANC, Tutu in 2014 said he could not vote for them and the organization openly opposed Tutu thereafter. He was then black-listed by the Nelson Mandela family, including the controversial Winnie Mandela – wife of Nelson.

Tutu spoke of his pain at being snubbed by organizers of Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013 as his relationship with South Africa’s dominant party continued to sour. “I was quite astounded myself but I tried to pretend that I was humbled and didn’t really mind,” Tutu said at the time. “It was not true, I was very hurt. He was a very dear friend.

He was also excluded from when official events were held to mark the 20th anniversary of the country’s first multiracial election.

But Tutu took all in good stride and continued to work for peace.

Yet it may be his infectious and loud laugh, usually at one of his own jokes that people remember of him personally. He regularly launched his sermons with a humorous tale, and “the more fraught the moment, the more likely he was to tap into his endless reservoir of stories to ease the tension,” reports NPR News.

If his joke wasn’t met with the response he expected, he’d just keep laughing until everyone joined him as the video below illustrates.


His humor and good nature continued through his prostate cancer and many hospital treatments in recent years.

Dr. Ramphela Mamphele, acting chairperson of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu IP Trust and coordinator of the Office of the Archbishop, confirmed the news of his passing this morning.

“Ultimately, at the age of 90, he died peacefully at the Oasis Frail Care Centre in Cape Town this morning,” Dr. Mamphele confirmed in a statement via The Guardian.

The cause of death was not confirmed.

“An Icon has rested,” tweeted Kenyan politician Charity Ngilu.

“What an impactful life well lived! Archbishop Desmond Tutu positively changed S. Africa and the world. We are better off with his service to humanity. The history of democracy can’t be told without mentioning his contribution. Rest with the angels man of God.”

statement from the embattled Nelson Mandela Foundation said the loss of Tutu was “immeasurable”.

“He was larger than life, and for so many in South Africa and around the world his life has been a blessing.

“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.

“He was an extraordinary human being. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this most difficult time.”

In an interview with The Guardian, Tutu talked about democracy but also lost opportunities. He aften spoke about how in many ways, blacks may have had the vote but were not much better off under Black rule than white rule.

“We dreamt about a society that would be compassionate, a society that really made people feel they mattered. You can’t do that in a society where you have people who go to bed hungry, where many of our children still attend classes under trees.”

Tutu, who coined the phrase “rainbow nation”, described 20 years of democracy in South Africa as “a heck of an achievement” and a “very good reason for all of us as South Africans to feel proud”.

–Dwight Widaman and wire services