South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning anti-apartheid leader Desmond Tutu has died at age 90. According to the Associated Press, the activist died peacefully at the Oasis Frail Care Center in Cape Town on Sunday (Dec. 26). Tutu became known globally for his efforts against racism and political leadership, as well as advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.
“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,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Tutu was born in 1931 and in 1954 he graduated from the University of South Africa. He went on to teach high school for three years and began to study theology. From there, he became ordained as a priest in 1960 and eventually studied in England earning his Master of Theology. From 1967 to 1972 he taught theology in South Africa before returning to England for three years to serve as the assistant director of a theological institute in London.
In 1975, Tutu was appointed Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg, the first Black person to hold that position. From 1976 to 1978 he was Bishop of Lesotho, and in 1978 became the first Black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches. In 1986, he became the first Black Archbishop of Cape Town.
In 1990, after serving 27 years behind bars, Nelson Mandela spent his first night of freedom at Tutu’s Cape Town residence. Then, in 1994, following Mandela’s historical election to office, the then-President appointed Tutu to be South Africa’s chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“He was larger than life, and for so many in South Africa and around the world his life has been a blessing,” said a statement issued by the Nelson Mandela Foundation. “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.”
His political work and activism included a non-violent approach to organizing against apartheid in South Africa and fighting for equal rights for all globally. In 1984, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against the segregationist system. Tutu also notably advocated for human rights, especially equality for LGBTQ+ and same-sex marriage.
“Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a mentor, a friend, and a moral compass for me and so many others,” said former President Barack Obama. “A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere.”
Tutu is survived by his wife of 66 years and their children.