President Cyril Ramaphosa has extended his warmest congratulations to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu who celebrates his 89th birthday today.

“I wish Archbishop Tutu a very happy birthday in the company of Mama Leah, the family and colleagues in the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation,” said the President on Wednesday, October 7.

The President described Archbishop Tutu as a national treasure and global icon of moral consistency, spiritual virtue and the defence of the most vulnerable people not only in South Africa, but also around the world. 

“Today we are united in celebrating the passing of another year in which we have benefited from the Archbishop’s wisdom, the bravery of his conviction in fighting for human rights, the warmth of his love for all South Africans and his care for humanity,” said the President. 

About the Arch

Bishop Desmond Tutu was born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, North West.

His father was a teacher, and he himself was educated at Johannesburg Bantu High School.

After leaving school he trained first as a teacher at Pretoria Bantu Normal College and in 1954 he graduated from the University of South Africa. After three years as a high school teacher he began to study theology, being ordained as a priest in 1960.

The years 1962-66 were devoted to further theological study in England leading up to a Master of Theology.

From 1967 to 1972 he taught theology in South Africa before returning to England for three years as the assistant director of a theological institute in London. In 1975 he was appointed Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg, the first black 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. Tutu is an honorary doctor of a number of leading universities in the USA, Britain and Germany.

From 1978 to 1985 he was general-secretary of the South African Council of Churches, emerging as one of South Africa’s most prominent anti-apartheid activists. Although warning the National Party government that anger at apartheid would lead to racial violence, as an activist he stressed non-violent protest and foreign economic pressure to bring about universal suffrage.

In 1985, Tutu became Bishop of Johannesburg and in 1986 the Archbishop of Cape Town, the most senior position in southern Africa’s Anglican hierarchy. In this position he emphasized a consensus-building model of leadership and oversaw the introduction of women priests.

Also in 1986, he became president of the All Africa Conference of Churches, resulting in further tours of the continent.

After President F. W. de Klerk released the anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the pair led negotiations to end apartheid and introduce multi-racial democracy, Tutu assisted as a mediator between rival black factions.

After the 1994 general election resulted in a coalition government headed by Mandela, the latter selected Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (or TRC) to investigate past human rights abuses committed by both pro and anti-apartheid groups.

Since apartheid’s fall, Tutu has campaigned for gay rights and spoken out on a wide range of subjects, among them the Israel-Palestine conflict, his opposition to the Iraq War, and his criticism of South African presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.

Retirement life

In 2010, Archbishop Tutu retired from public life.

Well-known around the world for his anti-apartheid activism, Tutu, has kept away from public life in recent times. This is mainly due his vulnerability to infections as a senior citizen.

“The Archbishop has been hospitalised several times over the past few years for treatment of a similar condition,” said the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation’s Leah Tutu.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner has for over two decades battled with prostate cancer.

Share your input on this article

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.