Desmond Tutu Research Paper

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Because he is one of the world’s most passionate nonviolent activists against apartheid in South Africa, Desmond Mpilo Tutu’s name is synonymous with the struggle against that racist movement. He has served the Anglican Church in a number of roles culminating in archbishop, and continues to make international appearances on behalf of racial equality.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu, a leading opponent of South Africa’s racist apartheid system, became chair of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the fall of the apartheid regime. He has received numerous honorary degrees and awards, including the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize. An Anglican priest, Tutu also served the church as a chaplain, curate, theologian, dean, bishop, and archbishop, and as general secretary of the South African Council of Churches.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, Transvaal, South Africa. After receiving his high school diploma in 1950, he earned his teacher’s diploma from Pretoria Bantu Normal College in 1953 and his BA from the University of South Africa in 1954. He then taught high school for four years, during which time he met and married his wife Leah, with whom he had three daughters and a son. As Tutu began his teaching career, everyday life for the majority black population in South Africa was drastically changing for the worse. In 1948 a white minority government implemented the comprehensive system of racial segregation, disenfranchisement, land alienation, and oppression known as apartheid. Under apartheid, white student education was well funded and of a high quality, while blacks were forced to attend inferior schools, study restricted curriculums, and had limited access to higher education and job opportunities. Tutu quit teaching in 1958 to protest this unjust educational system.

An early influence in Tutu’s life was the Anglican bishop Trevor Huddleston, an early and tireless opponent of apartheid who inspired Tutu to enter the ministry. Ordained an Anglican priest in 1961, Tutu then traveled to London, where he earned bachelor of divinity honors and master of theology degrees. Returning to South Africa in 1966, Tutu taught theology at black universities before becoming associate director of the World Council of Churches, based in London, in 1972. In 1975 he became the first black African named Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg. He held this position for only a year, however, before becoming bishop of Lesotho, where he served until 1978. He then became the first black African to be installed as general secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC).

In 1976 black students in townships across South Africa, most notably in Soweto near Johannesburg, erupted in protest against new apartheid laws that severely affected the already inferior black educational system. Tutu’s position as SACC general secretary and his ability to speak publicly at a time when most black South African leaders were in jail or otherwise silenced offered him a unique platform from which to criticize the apartheid system. He soon became an internationally respected figure as he exposed apartheid’s evils. When he called for economic sanctions against South Africa, the apartheid government withdrew his passport, but had to restore it again in 1982 under international pressure.

Tutu’s peaceful but insistent campaign against racial injustice in South Africa earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. The Nobel Committee’s announcement cited “Tutu’s role as a unifying leader figure in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa. The means by which this campaign is conducted is of vital importance for the whole of the continent of Africa and for the cause of peace in the world” (Nobel Foundation 2004).

Tutu left his post as SACC General Secretary in 1985 and became a leader in the United Democratic Front, a multiracial mass movement that sought to overturn the apartheid system peacefully. The movement realized its goal in 1994 when Nelson Mandela (b. 1918), a leader of South Africa’s main black political party, the African National Congress, became the first democratically elected President of South Africa. The following year Mandela appointed Tutu chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an unprecedented effort by South Africans to come to terms with their recent, dark past. The Commission focused on political crimes and human rights violations committed between 1960 and 1994, offering immunity to those who confessed their guilt. The Commission’s report, issued in 1998, documented more information about political crimes and victims than any similar endeavor in world history. Although the Commission’s work was highly controversial, Tutu maintained throughout the hearings a deep spirit of forgiveness and understanding rather than revenge. Tutu has often referred to the African concept of ubuntu, which includes the ideals of human brotherhood, mutual responsibility, and compassion.

Following his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Tutu went to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1998 to teach at Emory University. In 2000 he returned to South Africa, where he continues, as always, to fight for political, economic, and social justice for all the world’s peoples. Like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tutu is a courageous practitioner of nonviolent activism against injustice and oppression. His thirty-year nonviolent campaign against apartheid, and the compassion and strength he displayed in healing wounds and uniting peoples during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, have given him a unique place in world history.


  1. Battle, M. J. (1997). Reconciliation: The ubuntu theology of Desmond Tutu. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press.
  2. Nobel Foundation. (2004). The Nobel Peace Prize for 1984. Retrieved June 3, 2016, from
  3. Tlhagale B., & Mosala, I. (Eds.). (1996). Hammering swords into ploughshares: Essays in honor of Archbishop Mpilo Desmond Tutu. Braamfontein, South Africa: Skotaville Publishers.
  4. Tutu, D. (1984). Hope and suffering: Sermons and speeches. Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans.
  5. Tutu, D. (1990). Crying in the wilderness: The struggle for justice in South Africa. Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans.
  6. Tutu, D. (1996). The rainbow people of God: The making of a peaceful revolution. New York: Doubleday.
  7. Tutu, D. (2000). No future without forgiveness. New York: Doubleday.
  8. Tutu, D. (2004). God has a dream: A vision of hope for our time. New York: Doubleday.
  9. Tutu, D. M., & Tutu, N. (1996). The words of Desmond Tutu. New York: Newmarket Press.

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