It is difficult to imagine Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu as anyone but an Archbishop but believe it or not, in 1931 on the 7th of October, his parents held a baby who was to become the phenom we know today. Tutu’s father, Zachariah Zelilo Tutu was a teacher working in Boksburg where he met the Archbishop’s mother. Desmond Tutu was to follow in his father’s steps, first getting an education from the Johannesburg Bantu High School and then training as a teacher at Pretoria Bantu Normal College before graduating from the University of South Africa in 1954.
On being a teacher, Tutu said, “I tried to be what my teachers had been to me to these kids, seeking to instil in them a pride, a pride in themselves.” However, he was to leave teaching after the Bantu Education Act was passed.
Archbishop Tutu was to start his journey as we know it in 1960 when he was ordained as a priest after studying theology. After adding a Master of Theology to the already impressive CV in 1966, Tutu briefly taught theology in South Africa and went to work as assistant director of a theological institute in England. The official Nobel Prize website records that Tutu was the first black Dean of Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg and General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was awarded the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize.
Archbishop Emeritus Tutu is said to have been inspired by anti-apartheid clergymen like Bishop Trevor Huddleston. Recounting his childhood experience, Tutu said, “I recall one day when I was out walking with my mother when a white man, a priest named Trevor Huddleston, tipped his hat to her – the first time I ever saw a white man pay this respect to a black woman. The incident made a profound impression on me, teaching me that I need not accept discrimination and that religion could be a powerful tool for advocating racial equality.”
Huddleston, for his part, was a huge force having led peaceful protests against the government’s plans to level Sophiatown (a black suburb) and build a white suburb in its place. Tutu joined the fray and by 1976, he had sent a letter to Prime Minister John Vorster warning him, “absolutely nothing will stop a people from attaining their freedom to be a people who can hold their heads high, whose dignity to be human is respected, who can assume the responsibilities and obligations that are the necessary concomitants of the freedom they yearn for with all their being.”
Tutu supported economic alienation of South Africa to pressure the country into accepting the black as an equal of the white. Tutu’s objective in his human rights work was defined as “ a democratic and just society without racial divisions” and its minimum demands were equal civil rights, a common education system, and the cessation of forced deportation.
“The Arch”, as he is affectionately known has been embroiled in controversy over being a political priest but these are only occupational hazards for taking up the plight of the oppressed. Lately, he has shown his support for the homosexual community which is still unpopular in Africa. He is on record for declaring, “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.” He even said he was as passionate about championing gay rights as he was about apartheid. He has also had a public exchange of words with Zimbabwe’s Mugabe over the latter’s leadership in his country. Whatever can be said about Tutu, it is clear he is passionate about the views he holds. Here is a strong champion of the rights of the powerless. He is still a voice of the voiceless.