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Farewell, Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu King's College London
Image courtesy World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons.

“The Sun has gone down”– that’s how many South Africans have described their feelings following the passing of the nation’s beloved Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Known around the world as an iconic activist towards dismantling the apartheid system in South Africa, Tutu led an exemplary life inspiring many of the world’s greats.

On Sunday, December 26, Archbishop Desmond Tutu left his beloved family and community, passing “peacefully in the early hours” of the morning. But in his wake, Tutu leaves much more than heartbreak: he has gifted his nation with a legacy.

By devoting a lifetime to civil and ecclesial service, Archbishop Tutu has been a trailblazer in his country’s historical fight for equality during the apartheid regime of 1948-1994 in South Africa. Described by former US president Barack Obama as a “moral compass”, Tutu has also served as a reminder to always uphold justice and freedom. He received admiration and praise for the strength of and commitment to his beliefs by his people and key figures of the political landscape like Nelson Mandela, Joe Biden, Pope Francis and Queen Elisabeth II.

Desmond Tutu graduated King’s College London in 1966 with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Theology. Subsequently, Archbishop Tutu became a Fellow at the University before setting sail for South Africa.

In a short tribute to Archbishop Tutu released on their website, representatives of King’s College London stated they were “greatly saddened” by his passing. Shitij Kapur, President and Principal of the College, expressed his admiration for the late Archbishop, saying: “Desmond’s contributions to King’s were immense and in his frequent visits here, he profoundly touched all those he met. Through his sermons, lectures, addresses and acts of worship, and as a teller of wonderful and engaging stories and jokes, he had a seminal effect on students and staff and was a dear friend to many in the King’s community.”

In a similar vein, Reverend Dr Ellen Clark-King, Dean of King’s College London, said of Tutu: “His passion for justice, sense of wonder and joy and incredibly infectious laugh will live in our memories and inspire our own lives.”

In the years following his time at King’s, Tutu’s faith and preachings awarded him the highest post in his church’s hierarchy: the archbishopric of Cape Town. As far as his activism was concerned, Tutu used his inclusive, non-violent faith to engender political change against the oppressive segregational governments of his country. This led to him being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

Tutu’s critical letter to Margaret Thatcher and his sermons and works denouncing the violence of the African National Congress against its constituents were subject to as much praise as disapproval. Regardless, Tutu continued to serve his country with a steadfast commitment to righting the wrongs of apartheid, even during the harrowing personal experience of presiding over South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee – charged with bringing closure to the events and victims of apartheid.

Likewise, his faith not only recalibrated a country’s trajectory towards democracy, but also attempted to make the Church a more hospitable place. More specifically, Tutu preached a Christian faith of acceptance, liberation and forgiveness. While his stances in favour of LGBTQIA+ rights, climate change, and human rights made him persona non grata in the eyes of some political and clerical figures, Tutu unapologetically continued to build his image of God and Christianity as an open and inclusive religion.

Overall, with his ceaseless activism, joyful faith, and cheerful and witty personality, Tutu was one of the most prominent figures of the 20th century’s fight for equality around the world.

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