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Who is Desmond Tutu?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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As one of the most remarkable figures in twentieth century public life, Desmond Tutu has been a source of inspiration for millions of people all over the world. Here is a brief overview of the life of Desmond Mpilo Tutu, including some of the contributions he has made to human rights, religion, and politics during his lifetime.

Desmond Tutu was born on 7 October 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal and grew up within the embrace of the Anglican Communion. Around the age of twelve, Tutu’s family settled in Johannesburg. Early on, Desmond Tutu had the dream of becoming a physician, so he could heal people of their infirmities. Unfortunately, the Tutu family was not in a position to afford the training necessary, so Tutu chose to enter the teaching profession.

It was in 1957 that Desmond Tutu made his first public stance for equality, when he opposed the recent passed Bantu Education Act, which setup circumstances that he saw as only making a quality education even harder for many South Africans to obtain. Resigning his teaching post, Tutu began to pursue theology. At this juncture, Desmond Tutu made a decision to pursue a life dedicated to service to humankind through the auspices of the Anglican Church.

After completing his basic studies, he was ordained as a priest in the Anglican tradition in 1960. Over time, Desmond Tutu became a prominent South African cleric. His faithful service led to Desmond Tutu being ordained as the first black South African Archbishop of Cape Town. In later years, he also became the primate of what is today known as the Anglican Church of South Africa.

Tutu’s ministry often focused on the love of God for all humankind. This point of view made it natural for Archbishop Desmond Tutu to be an enemy of apartheid in his native country. Essentially, apartheid prevented all the citizens of South Africa from participating fully in the life of the country. Tutu’s efforts to end apartheid touched the hearts of people across the globe, and in 1984 received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts to bring full equality to all the citizens of South Africa. Archbishop Tutu also received the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986.

Desmond Tutu’s battle for the equal rights of all citizens did not stop with ending the racial inequality in South Africa. In a time when few people cared to speak out for the need to seek medical solutions to the AIDS epidemic, Desmond Tutu used his position as a well regarded South African activist and clergyperson to call for an end to discrimination toward persons with AIDS and AIDS Related Complex. To that end, Desmond Tutu founded the Global AIDS Alliance, which proved to be a major force in getting persons around the world to take the epidemic seriously. His efforts on behalf of AIDS victims found him the recipient of the Gandhi Peace Prize, which he accepted in February 2007.

Archbishop Tutu continues to speak for equality on a number of different levels, including gender, race, and sexual orientation. He travels extensively to share his vision of a world where people are valued for who they are and not for external factors that are often used to marginalize others. As one of the single most popular clergy in the world, Desmond Tutu has built bridges between many persons who possibly would never have encountered one another without the vision of a world where all are equal that is his legacy to the world.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By anon155438 — On Feb 23, 2011

I think that its brilliant. Such quantity and quality is found nowhere else. He is such a worthy person and an inspiration to us all.

By john1373 — On Jan 17, 2010

A wonderful article worthy of Tutu!

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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