Historical Figure- Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu is a social activist and a retired Anglican bishop who rose to fame during the 1980s as one of the chief opponents of apartheid in South Africa. He was the first black South African to be appointed Archbishop of Cape Town. He also served as the bishop of Johannesburg and the bishop of Lesotho.

Tutu first became active in the fight against apartheid after the 1976 Soweto riots, which soon developed into a massive uprising. Tutu supported an economic boycott of the country as a means of putting pressure on the government to end apartheid. He opposed Ronald Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement,” which advocated “friendly persuasion” as a means of dealing with South Africa. Instead, Tutu endorsed the idea of disinvestment. Although this method hit the poor the hardest, Tutu argued that at least they would be suffering for a reason. In 1985, the US and the UK, two of South Africa’s primary investors, stopped all investments. As a result, the value of the Rand plunged more than 35% and put enormous pressure on the South African government to move toward reform.

In 1978, after serving as bishop of Lesotho, he became the Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches. With the support of nearly all churches, Tutu continued the fight against apartheid through his powerful writings and lectures, as well as several peaceful protests. As vigorous as his opposition to apartheid was, he frequently condemned the violent tactics used by other anti-apartheid groups such as the African National Congress. He compared apartheid to Nazism and Communism in lectures both domestic and abroad.As a result of his outspoken criticism and rising profile, the South African government revoked his passport twice and even jailed him briefly after a peaceful protest.

Since the fall of the apartheid, Tutu has remained an activist and humanitarian. He has used his high profile international reputation to bring public attention to several important causes such as AIDS, homophobia, tuberculosis, transphobia, poverty and racism. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, as well as countless other awards and recognitions. He also remained active in the politics of South Africa after apartheid, criticizing what he saw to be continued political corruption particularly within the African National Congress.


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