Mpilo Desmond Tutu

(September 7, 1931 - )

Cleric, anti-apartheid activist, Nobel laureate, and former Chairman of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)

Mpilo Desmond Tutu was born in Klerksdorp on 7 September 1931. As a youngster he attended Mission schools in Klerksdorp. His father was a teacher, who was educated at Madibane High School between 1945 and 1950. Madibane High School is famous for producing academics and politicians such as mathematician, Dr. John Nkambule, the late editor-in-chief of the Sowetan, Agrrey Klaaste, Deputy Minister of Minerals and Energy Susan Shabangu, political activist Thomas Nkobe and the first Black woman manager of a South African airport, Thembi Mogoai. In 1954 Tutu completed a teaching diploma from the Pretoria Bantu Normal College and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Africa (UNISA).

After three years in the teaching profession Tutu quit in protest against the deteriorating standard of Black education. This was due to the implementation of the Bantu Education Act of 1953, which reduced Black education to second rate. He decided to become a priest and enrolled at St Peter's Theological College. He was ordained as a deacon in 1960, and became a priest in 1961. In 1962 he moved to London, where he completed his Honours and Masters degrees in the Arts in 1966.

Tutu then returned to South Africa and taught at the Federal Theological Seminary at Alice in the Eastern Cape. The Federal Theological Seminary was taken over by the state and, with his strong critical views against the apartheid government, Tutu decided to leave his position. In 1970 he was offered a lecturing position at Roma University in Lesotho.This was followed by an appointment as Associate Director of the Theological Fund of the World Council of Churches in Kent, London. He returned to South Africa in 1975 in order to take up a post as the Anglican Dean of Johannesburg.

Between 1976 and 1978 Tutu was the Bishop of the Anglican Church in Lesotho and the Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches. He has been arrested by the South African government and at times his passport was confiscated, barring him from travelling overseas. On 16 October 1984, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize award for his untiring effort in calling for the end to minority rule in South Africa, and the unbanning of liberation organisations and the release of political prisoners.

On 7 September 1986 Tutu was ordained as the Archbishop of Cape Town, thus becoming the first Black person to lead the Anglican Church in South Africa. Tutu is the recipient of the Order for Meritorious Service Award (Gold) presented by President Nelson Mandela.
In 1995 Tutu was appointed the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was put into place to deal with the atrocities of the past. Tutu is married to Leah Nomalizo Shinxani and they have four children. He holds honorary degrees from a large number of Universities throughout the world. He currently lives in Cape Town and he is most sought after for his knowledge, views and experience, especially in the reconciliation process.

Desmond Tutu's Awards and Honours

1978 – Honorary Doctorate of Divinity, General Theological Seminary, USA

1979 – Honorary D.C. L., Harvard

1980 – Prix d'Athene prize, Onassis Foundation, Greece

1981 – Honorary Doctorate of Theology, Ruhr University, Bochum, West Germany

1981 – Honorary Doctorate of Divinity, Aberdeen University, Scotland

1981 – Newsmaker of the year, Southern African Society of Journalists

1982 – Honorary Doctorate of sacred Theology, Columbia University

1988 – Chancellor of the University of Western Cape

1996 – Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town

1989 – Robert R Woodruff Visiting Professor, Candler School of Theology

1999 – William R Cannon Visiting Distinguished Professor Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, USA

2002 – Visiting Professor, The Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts


Gastrow, S. (1985) Who's Who In South African Politics, Johannesburg: Ravan, pp. 307-309.


For biographical links on Desmond Tutu, go to: - Go to ‘Menu: About Desmond Tutu’ for information on his life, his Curriculum Vitae, and other biographical information - A biography on the Nobel Prize website - A short biography - A short, simple biography written for students

This biography is from South African History Online. Used by permission. 
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