In 1988, during a tense meeting between President P. W. Botha and the mulish racial ideologue P. W. Botha, Archbishop Desmond Tutu observed as both men lost their tempers.

Then the president began to wag his finger at South Africa’s most senior churchman. Tutu was never one who would avoid confrontations and was always conscious of his Nobel Peace Prize award. He climbed into his chair. 

‘Don’t think you’re talking to a small boy!’ he spat out at Botha, abandoning all restraint.

Later he reflected ruefully to his biographer John Allen: ‘I don’t know whether that is how Jesus would have handled it, but our people have suffered for so long and I might never get this chance again.’ 

Tutu’s natural habitat in the 1980s was in the midst of the great stand-off between an increasingly angry young black population and the brutal white-led security forces

Tutu’s natural habitat in the 1980s was in the midst of the great stand-off between an increasingly angry young black population and the brutal white-led security forces

At night, Tutu spoke to international television anchors about the shocking events in South Africa and why their governments must impose sanctions to force Nelson Mandela’s release from prison

At night, Tutu spoke to international television anchors about the shocking events in South Africa and why their governments must impose sanctions to force Nelson Mandela’s release from prison

In 1984 Tutu posed with his wife Leah (right) after he was announced as Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

After being announced the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1984, Tutu was photographed with Leah (right).

After his death in Cape Town aged 90, the Queen led tributes, describing him as a ‘tireless champion’ for human rights

After his death in Cape Town aged 90, the Queen led tributes, describing him as a ‘tireless champion’ for human rights

Tutu’s natural habitat in the 1980s was in the midst of the great stand-off between an increasingly angry young black population and the brutal white-led security forces. 

He would soon be at the forefront of political turmoil in his townships, flanked by rubber bullets, broken glass and live ammunition.

At night he would be in a studio, talking to international television anchors about the shocking events in South Africa and why their governments must impose sanctions to force Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.

He was a pivotal player in the end of apartheid. It was an honor to play that role. 

But to say that Pretoria’s most turbulent priest was a showman, or indeed a show-off, is not to diminish the vital part he played in effecting South Africa’s relatively peaceful transition from white domination to black majority rule. 

Yesterday, after his death in Cape Town aged 90, the Queen led tributes, describing him as a ‘tireless champion’ for human rights.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, which highlighted the friendship between the two men, said the loss was ‘immeasurable’.

Prince Harry and wife Meghan issued a statement saying: ‘He was an icon for racial justice and beloved across the world.’

Boris Johnson declared him a ‘critical figure in the struggle to create a new South Africa’.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela - after his released from Robben Island Prison in 1990, walks hand-in-hand with Desmond Tutu

After being released in 1990 from Robben Island Prison, Nelson Mandela was freed and walks alongside Desmond Tutu.

Tutu became so outraged by the government that the government twice banned his passport. Ministers, however, never managed to get the courage to jail the churchman most revered after the Pope.

Tutu had both the ability to provoke and be a mediator. In those final years of Apartheid, when I was stationed in South Africa I can’t count how many protest marches or rallies I witnessed.

He would almost always be the keynote speaker — the rest of the leadership were imprisoned or banned from public speaking and he was de facto leader of the black opposition. He would start by whipping up the angered youths to rage over the most recent apartheid atrocity.

Then he would perform a rhetorical somersault and order the crowd to disperse and go home peacefully, and not bring shame to the reputation of ‘The Struggle’ by resorting to violence.

He was shrewd enough to realise that Pretoria feared economic sanctions more than the African National Congress’s largely ineffective campaign of violence against the apartheid state.

Reverend Desmond Tutu is seen during an audience with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in London, England

Reverend Desmond Tutu seen at Buckingham Palace, London, England during an audience with Queen Elizabeth II

The Dalai Lama greets Mr Tutu in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2004

Vancouver, British Columbia, 2004: The Dalai Lama meets Mr Tutu

Botha was most afraid of his repeated requests to America and Europe for investment freezes and international bank lending stops. 

Tutu was an Anglican priest who preferred to remain at the pulpit than run for office. He felt that he was forced to enter the political vacuum caused by the ban on the ANC in South Africa’s 1980s chaos.

He loved being in the public eye. People like Botha — who did Tutu the singular honour of branding him ‘Public Enemy No.1’ — resented his celebrity. However, there was also some resentment among his closest political allies that he seemed to enjoy the world’s attention more than was best for him.

The 1980s saw us journalists joke about how it was foolish to try and get in between the archbishop of Rome and the television cameras. 

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams with Tutu after meeting at Sinn Fein's headquarters. Tutu was on a one day visit to Northern Ireland to promote peace

After meeting with Tutu at Sinn Fein headquarters, Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Fein, met up with Tutu. Tutu made a brief visit to Northern Ireland as part of his peace-promoting mission.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the Archbishop prior to a lunch in Cape Town, South Africa on November 10, 1988. Mother Teresa was in Cape Town to open a House of Charity in a black township

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was with Archbishop in Cape Town prior to an October 10, 1988 lunch. Mother Teresa visited Cape Town in order to inaugurate a House of Charity for a black community.

The showman in him loved shocking visitors to his office by picking up the phone and without knowing who was on the line, answering with a slightly camped up, ‘Hello darling!’

He loved being known by his nickname ‘The Arch’. He would have been an actor if he hadn’t been ordained.

He asked us to not be side-by side when we flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

Desmond Tutu in his own words 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was 90 years old and died on Sunday in Cape Town. He was not afraid to use humor and anger to show his outrage and values.

Here are some his most memorable quotes.

“Be kind to the whites. They need your help to rediscover humanity.” New York Times, October 19, 1984

“For the sake of goodness, will they listen, will white people understand what we’re trying to convey?” All we ask is that you recognize the fact that we all are human. If you rub us on the back, we will bleed. If you make us laugh, it’s because we love to be tickled. (Statement urging sanctions against South Africa, 1985)

“Your President is the pits for blacks.” Like a big, white chief who can teach us blacks what’s best for us. The white man understands. Interview with the US Press, Reacting to Ronald Reagan’s Veto of Economic Sanctions Apartheid Government, 1986

“Raise your hand!” – This is what I used to say in South Africa, where black and white are often paired together. I then said, “Move your hand!” And I replied, “Look at my hands!” Different colors representing different people. Your are the rainbow peoples of God. (His 1994 book, “The Rainbow People of God”

– I would refuse to worship any God that is homophobic. That is my deepest feeling about the matter. I wouldn’t go to homophobic heaven. Yes, sorry. I meant I would rather visit the other side. This campaign is as important to me as apartheid. (Speech delivered at UN’s gay rights campaign in 2013,

“I am grateful to God for creating a Dalai Lama. Are you sure that God is saying, like some people have suggested, “You know that Dalai Lama isn’t bad.” It’s a shame he is not a Christian. It’s not true, as God isn’t a Christian. (Speech given at the birthday of Dalai Lama, June 2, 2006).

“He is now a strange creature. For his people, he has truly become a Frankenstein. (Commenting on Robert Mugabe’s Australian ABC TV).

“One day, I was visiting San Francisco and I was doing my business as usual, but a woman came up to me gushing. It was wonderful to meet her warmth and greet me. She said “Hello Archbishop Mandela!” You get two for the cost of one. Speech at University of Michigan 2008

– “Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You” (Announcing the retirement of public life on July 22, 2010,

“Our government…” – Our government… states it won’t support Tibetans being brutally oppressed by the Chinese. Warning you: I’m warning you. I’m warning you. We will continue to pray the same prayers that we did for the fall of apartheid, and we will also pray that the government we are misrepresented is destroyed. (2011) (Regarding South Africa’s refusal to grant the Dalai Lama visa.

– “It is shameful to refer to this lickspittle group as my government.” The Dalai Lama was denied a visa by South Africa in 2014, after which he received another rejection.

– Did he have flaws? He did. His loyalty to his organization and his coworkers who eventually let him down was a testament to that. His cabinet contained incompetent, underperforming ministers. He inspired many people powerfully, which I think makes him a saint. (At Mandela’s death, 2013)

“Once upon a time, a Zambian was talking to a South African,” it’s said. The Zambian boasted then about their minister for naval affairs. South Africa asked: “But you don’t have a navy and no access to sea.” What is the point of having a Minister of Naval Affairs? “Well, you don’t have one in South Africa, do you?” replied the Zambian. (Nobel lecture, 1984)

– “I am prepared to die and I have stated that I don’t want to be kept alive.” I want to be treated with compassion so that I may move forward in my own way. The Washington Post 2016 Op-Ed.


I used midflight to use a visit to the lavatory for a pretext and went past his seat. However, I was surprised that he was still reading through a glossy mag. 

His eyes closed when I returned, and his hands were clasped over his bible in solemn prayer. He was only 5ft 4in tall, but he insisted on traveling first class to anti poverty conferences.

South Africans today will remember him for his incredible physical and moral courage. They also recognize his role in the relatively peaceful downfall of apartheid. 

One example of both kinds of courage is evident in his speech to 15,000 mourners at Griffiths Mxenge’s funeral. Griffiths Mxenge was killed by state-killers in 1981.

The word spread that an informant was among them. A can of petrol and a car tyre materialised and the man seemed doomed to become a victim of the hideous practice of ‘necklacing’, in which the tyre was set on fire around a victim’s neck.

Tutu was quick to throw himself in front of the suspect informer, and ordered everyone to move away. Tutu took the victim’s cassock, stained with blood, to his vehicle and drove the suspect away.

Tutu was a black boy born in Klerksdorp (a small, rural town to the west of Johannesburg) in 1931. He was the son of a drunken headmaster. However, his father instilled discipline academically in him.

He was a little boy when he got polio, which left him with a severely atrophied hand. His lungs were permanently damaged by tuberculosis later on. 

Tutu and his wife Leah trained as teachers, but both resigned in protest when the Nationalist government tightened the rules on ‘Bantu education’, an inferior curriculum for black children.

Tutu would always say Leah, to whom he was married for 66 years and who survives him, was ‘much more radical than me’.

His rapid ascent to the top of Anglican hierarchy after he was ordained was a sign of his ability. He was selected for further study, and enrolled at King’s College London in 1962 for a master’s degree in theology. 

He became an amused witness to London during the Swinging Sixties. Tutu also worked part-time as a curate at Golders Green while he was studying.

Tutu shared with me, years ago, that the kindness of the white English people towards him and his family helped him realize how evil apartheid really was.

It was amazing to him that whites would happily queue behind black men and that the police officers were so polite.

He relished aspects of the high life, proudly recalling that he had been taken as a guest both to Lord’s and the Travellers Club in Pall Mall.

He said the family’s return to South Africa in 1967 was a disturbing change for all of them and, after they went back, critics complained Tutu never stayed long in any position before his ambition led him to take the next step.

However, he was far more charismatic than his clergy colleagues and Anglican Church needed him to save the towns where the evangelical churches had strongerholds.

In the latter 1970s, his role as the General Secretary of South African Council of Churches was a major international event. It gave him an opportunity to interact with leaders of both the government and the opposition.

Tutu, his family and friends were put in serious danger by these activities. Tutu was at most one time unsuccessfully enlisted by apartheid agents in an attempt to murder an ex-convict.

A poor attempt to steal the front wheels of a hired car was stopped by a TV cameraman.

A second plot to murder him and another churchman was foiled when black soldiers assigned to the job refused to take it on.

Pretoria was aware that it had serious problems with Tutu’s demands for Mandela release and economic sanctions.

It was actually his celebrity that saved him. Tutu’s imprisonment or death would have been enough to trigger the Sanctions he wanted. He was able to rely on the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded in 1984. His reaction however was unusually slow. ‘One day no one was listening,’ he said, ‘the next I was an oracle.’

Mandela was freed from prison in 1990 by the archbishop Tutu.

‘We are the Rainbow People of God. I ask you to welcome our brand-new State President, out of the box, Nelson Mandela,’ he declared. 

Tutu was not slow to step aside during the following weeks but he refused to hold his breath as the ANC transformed from a liberation movement to a looting organization. As Tutu once tartly observed, ‘the ANC stopped the gravy train only long enough to get on themselves’.

But one more enormous burden was placed on his shoulders when Mandela insisted he was the only man who could lead South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This was, in effect, a vast, excruciating public inquest into South Africa’s rancid racial politics over the previous 40 years.

Inevitably, it was impossible to satisfy those who wanted apartheid’s criminal enforcers to be shamed and punished in such a setting. The process involved endless wrangles about amnesty as a condition of confessions.

Although Tutu was generally a competent leader, some truths may have had to be covered up in the larger effort to find reconciliation.

In one of his last public appearances, he hosted Prince Harry, his wife Meghan and their four-month-old son Archie at his charitable foundation in Cape Town in September 2019, calling them a 'genuinely caring' couple

He hosted Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, along with their 4-month-old boy Archie, at his charity foundation in Cape Town, September 2019. This was one of his final public appearances.

Britain's Prince Harry, left, with South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who waves at people during his visit to The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa Monday, Nov. 30, 2015

Britain’s Prince Harry (left) with South African Archbishop Emirit Desmond Tutu who waved at the people while he visited The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, Cape Town, South Africa, Monday, November 30, 2015.

When I talked to Tutu in Cape Town and Soweto, I noticed a faint worldliness.

Shortly before, ugly rumours surfaced about Bishop Trevor Huddleston, the British churchman who had befriended Tutu’s family when he worked in South Africa. Mother of two children in East London claimed Huddleston was a bishop of Stepney who had sexually abuse her sons. Police were called in to investigate, and the case was drawn up. However, no charges were filed.

Tutu, who was shocked by the allegation and angrily expressed his concern when I disclosed it to him.

‘He used to bounce us boys on his knee and play around with us,’ Tutu recalled. He added rather ambiguously: ‘There was no fondling below the belt.’

It was remarkable to me how someone who had to endure the horrors of apartheid, managed to believe in the goodness inherent to human nature until the end.

Tutu was forced to refuse demands by militant black activists for a role for whites in the fight for freedom throughout his public life. This fight should not be race-based. He argued that he was referring to the horrific scenes he saw while overseeing Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Tutu was among the few who realized that apartheid made the oppressors more humane than those oppressed.

His most notable achievement was his pivotal role in saving South Africa’s from the racial conflict that seemed so inevitable in the 1980s.

Tributes pour in for Desmond Tutu 

Desmond Tutu died on March 15, and tributes came in from politicians around the world, as well as celebrities. 

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, tweeted that Archbishop Desmond Tutu had been a prophet as well as a priest. He was also a man who spoke and did action. His life was filled with hope and joy.

“Even when we feel deep sadness, we thank God for this life.” Let him rest in peace. May he rise to glory.

Online, he said: “The news of the death Archbishop Desmond Tutu (always called Arch) is one that we accept with deep sadness, but also with deep gratitude as we look back on his life.

“My condolences and prayers are for his family, all those who loved him and the Anglican Province of Southern Africa and all the South African people.

“Arch”‘s love changed the lives of priests and politicians, as well as township residents and leaders around the world. This man changed the world.

Boris Johnson, Britain’s Prime Minister, stated that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was remembered for his humor and leadership.

He expressed his sadness at the news of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s death.

“He was an important figure in fighting apartheid, and in the struggle for a new South Africa. He will be remembered as a spiritual leader and irrepressible good humor. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Sternmer stated that Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s legacy will echo down through the generations.

He stated that “Desmond Tutu” was both a towering man and an example of moral activism.

He dedicated his entire life to fighting injustices and supporting the poor. His influence on the world transcends borders, and his legacy echoes down through generations.

“May his soul rest in peace.”

Dominic Raab, Deputy Prime Minister, described Archbishop Desmond Tutu to be a “truly great figure”.

He wrote: “Sad to learn of Desmond Tutu’s passing.

“A great man, whom I had the pleasure to meet in The Hague during his work for war victims. “Don’t raise you voice; improve your argument” is a quote that never fails to be true.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss posted: “Saddened to learn of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s death. His efforts in ending South Africa’s apartheid were a major factor, and he was worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.

“My thoughts and prayers are with South Africa.”

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, paid tribute to the Archbishop.

Tweeted the First Minister: “Such sad information this morning… but his life was one that helped make the world a better and more peaceful place.”

“Rest in peace Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  

Carol Vorderman was TV’s star and said Desmond Tutu’s death made her feel ‘immensely sorrowful’

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement about the Archbishop’s death at age 90. 

Vorderman sent a series on Twitter, saying that it was a ‘1/3 so deeply sad to hear about the death of Desmond Tutu today. My generation learned about apartheid late (if you weren’t familiar with it back then), and was then able to witness that hateful system being dismantled. The ‘Arch’ was always there.

Another tweet stated: “He was so smart and strong. Growing up, we still remember his smile even though we couldn’t understand his words. We will all come across the rare… those who are etched in our minds and fill our hearts when we think about them. He is one among them.

She sent her final tweet: “Archbishop Desmond Tutu… Thank you for everything you have done with your lives, and for the smile and dancing you showed, from a Welsh little girl who never met you but thought you were incredible.”

Singer Boy George called Tutu a “beautiful spirit”.

Tweeted the Culture Club singer: “Happy to report that I met Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, and he was truly a beautiful soul. He gave me hope that humans can have strong love frequencies. 

“Amazing man with a strong energy, one of God’s best!” R.I.P.’  

Strictly Come dancing stars Oti Mabuse and Motsi Motsi Mabuse (who grew up in South Africa) also paid tributes to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 

Oti, a Strictly Dancer tweeted “Oh no sad news” and stated that it was a “major loss” for South Africa.

Strictly judge Motsi shared a quote on Twitter which read: ‘Forgiving is not forgetting; its actually remembering-remembering and not using your right to hit back. It is an opportunity for a fresh start. 

The remembering aspect is crucial. Particularly if it is important to not repeat an event. R.I.P. Desmond Tutu. 

Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop York of York, paid tribute to Tutu for being a giant and as one of few people who were able to unify South Africa after Apartheid.

He stated, “One of our most enduring images was Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in court at closing session of Truth and Reconciliation Commission Cape Town.” Nelson Mandela requested Desmond Tutu, his friend to preside over the commission.

“It was an innovative and bold way to help a nation split brutally between white and black learn how to live in glorious Technicolour. It involved facing the horrible events of the past, and putting Christ’s call for forgiveness beside the necessity of truth. This is the only way to achieve reconciliation.

Desmond Tutu was chosen to be the chair because he was an incredibly joyous disciple of Jesus Christ and one of few in South Africa that could unify the nation, as well as carry the trust of everybody.

“In this sense, he was giant.” 

According to the Archbishop, York: “The world feels smaller without him.” Many people have been touched by his vision of the way the Christian faith influences all aspects of life.

“The Anglican Church, especially, thanks one of its greatest saints. Christian believers everywhere and people of goodwill will mourn the passing of someone who demonstrated the value of following Jesus and the path it takes.

Our prayers for him today include our sister and brother in the Anglican Church of South Africa.

“If I’m going to church this morning to receive the Eucharist, on Saint Stephen’s day,” I’ll be able to dance a little in gratitude for this remarkable human being. I pray that he may find peace and glory. 

Others tributes 

President Cyril Ramaphosa

‘The passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is another chapter of bereavement in our nationâs farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa.

“Desmond Tutu was an unrivalled patriot; a man of principle, pragmatism and who had the ability to give meaning to the biblical truth that faith is without works.

Thabo Makgoba Archbishop Cape Town

The legacy of ‘Desmond Tutu is moral strength and moral courage. He was with people. He cried in public, alone and because he could feel the pain of others. He laughed with joy when people shared their happiness.

Nelson Mandela Foundation:

“His contribution to fights against injustice locally and internationally is only equaled by the deepness of his thought about making liberatory futures possible for human society. His life was extraordinary. An innovator. Leader. A shepherd.’

Anniken Huitfeldt is Norway’s Minister of External Affairs.

‘Desmond Tutu was a pioneer in reconciliation and the struggle against apartheid. His work against racism and segregation policies made the world a better place. In his latter years, he was a prominent figure in the fight to support gay rights.

Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King

“I was saddened to hear of the loss of a powerful global sage, human right leader and pilgrim on Earth… We are happier because he is here.”