A Scottish scholar has described the late Desmond Tutu, as “South Africa’s moral compass,” citing his role in the fight against the apartheid government inequalities as proof.
Archbishop Emeritus Tutu died Sunday in Cape Town at the age of 90 after a long battle with prostate cancer and infections.
Tutu rose to prominence as a churchman who criticised minority white rule in South Africa and did not spare criticism for the post-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) rulers for failing to deliver for poor Black people.
He also pitched his rebukes well beyond the borders of South Africa and often softened the blows with humour and warmth.
He rebuked Israeli treatment of Palestinians, the United States-led war in Iraq and hardliners within his own church. The pursuit of peace took him to Cyprus, Northern Ireland and Kenya. Scott Firsing, a scholar who worked in South Africa, told Al Jazeera:
He was South Africa’s moral compass, a thorn in the side of the apartheid government for its gross inequalities, and, likewise, the post-apartheid government, which he railed against for corruption and cosying up to China.
Tutu was an outspoken idealist, always on the side of justice, no matter how difficult that could be. He, with Nelson Mandela, was a giant during decades of tumultuous change. Now they are gone, it’s hard to see where South Africa will turn for a guiding voice.
Tutu was born in 1931 in a Transvaal gold-mining town, Klerksdorp, to Zachariah, a teacher, and Aletta, a domestic servant.
He initially followed his father’s footsteps into teaching but resigned to protest against government restrictions on schooling for black children.
He was influenced by Bishop Trevor Huddleston and other anti-apartheid white clergymen, becoming a priest in 1961 and the first black Anglican Dean of Johannesburg in 1975.
With Mandela in jail, it was left for Tutu and others to campaign for change. As police brutally oppressed black student protests in Soweto in 1976, Tutu argued that a white-minority government was racist, doomed and defied God’s will.
According to the Norwegian Nobel Institute, his “clear views and fearless stance”, which made him a “unifying symbol for all African freedom fighters”, won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
Steven Gish, author of a biography on Tutu, told Al Jazeera that Tutu never hated his oppressors saying they would find their way one day. Added Gish:
He was South Africa’s Martin Luther King — a Christian clergyman who worked, non-violently, for racial justice and equality. He never hated his oppressors and always believed in dialogue and appealing to people’s moral conscience.”
He was elected archbishop of Cape Town in 1986 and continued tackling minority white rule, welcoming President Frederik Willem de Klerk’s liberalisation efforts upon taking office in 1989, such as the release of Mandela and the lifting of an anti-ANC ban.
In February 1990, Tutu led Mandela, a longtime friend, onto a balcony at Cape Town’s City Hall overlooking a square where the ANC leader made his first public address after 27 years of political imprisonment.
More: Al Jazeera