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Archbishop Tutu : A tireless advocate for justice turns 90

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Tutu : A tireless advocate for justice turns 90. Born to a teacher and a mother who was a domestic worker during difficult political times in South Africa, he shared glimpses into his life. He recalled how he was a sickly baby and medical doctors thought he would not survive tuberculosis.

Anglican Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s name is held with high esteem across the world for his contribution to the fight against apartheid. On Thursday, the man who held the attention and adulation from statesmen and ordinary people alike, will celebrate his 90th birthday.

He also related the incident to the BBC: “My mother and I were standing on a verandah. It was mind-blowing, a white man greeting my black mother with such courtesy.”

Huddleston would become one of the leading anti-apartheid campaigners in the United Kingdom. Another incident which “etched itself” in his subconscious mind was when he stayed in Ventersdorp.

As the only black child with a bicycle, his father would send him to buy a newspaper in the local shop

“I would ride past a whites-only primary school and see black kids rummaging through the bins for sandwiches which were provided by the school for free. They did not need those sandwiches and would throw them in the bin. And we had black kids who were poor,” he told the BBC.

In his twenties, Tutu became a teacher but left the profession when the then-prime minister, Hendrik Verwoed, introduced Bantu education which he said was designed to teach black children “just enough to understand instructions and keep them in perpetual servanthood”.

“I could not collaborate with this and I turned to priesthood. It was much later that I realised that it was almost like God was grabbing me by the scruff of the neck into it,” Tutu recalled.

The next decade of his year was characterised by his vocal stance against apartheid. In the 60s, Tutu and his wife, Leah moved to the UK for a few years where he continued with his studies.

“The contrast was incredible. Leah and I would sometimes take walks in the night and would ask for directions from a white police officer who would address us in a courteous way,” he said. In 1976, at the age of 45, Tutu wrote a letter to prime minister John Vorster warning him that something cataclysmic was brewing. But Vorster treated the letter with contempt, he said.

Not long after, the country saw the June student uprisings which started in Soweto. Tutu continued to be a thorn in the side of apartheid South Africa for calling on the international world to impose economic sanctions against the country.

He also advocated a non-violent resistance to apartheid. He also became one of the vocal campaigners for the release of the imprisoned ANC leader, Nelson Mandela. In July 1988, Tutu attended a rally in central London in support of the Free Nelson Mandela campaign.

Veteran journalist, Allister Sparks described Tutu this way: “Throughout the period when Mandela was in jail, Tutu was effectively the leader of the liberation struggle in the country.”

As his stature as an anti-apartheid activist grew, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 53, becoming the second South African after Chief Albert Luthuli to receive the honour. In 1986, he was elected the archbishop of Cape Town – the first black African to serve in the position.

In his sixties, he witnessed the release of Mandela from prison, who would later task him with setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). On 11 May 1994, he introduced Mandela to the crowds gathered at the Grand Parade.

During the early 90s, he played a mediation role between rival black groups in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. At the age of 63, he voted for the first time in his country, along with millions of others in the April 1994 democratic elections.

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