/ 26 December 2021

The world is better because of Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Files Safrica Politics Culture Democracy Anniversary
South African anti-apartheid icon Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, described as the country's moral compass, died on December 26, 2021 aged 90. (Photo by Rodger Bosch/AFP)

Tributes from across the globe have poured in after the passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Sunday morning 26 December in Cape Town at the age of 90.

He is being remembered as a beacon of light, a moral compass and a man of unyielding faith. 

The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation said the world had lost one of the great spirits and moral giants of our age: “Tutu was a living embodiment of faith in action, speaking boldly against racism, injustice, corruption, and oppression, not just in apartheid South Africa but wherever in the world he saw wrongdoing, especially when it impacted the most vulnerable and voiceless in society.” 

Here are some of the tributes from around the world:

The Dalai Lama to Tutu’s daughter, Reverend Mpho Tutu

“As you know, over the years, your father and I enjoyed an enduring friendship. I remember the many occasions we spent time together, including the week here at Dharamsala in 2015 when we were able to share our thoughts on how to increase peace and joy in the world. The friendship and the spiritual bond between us was something we cherished.
“Archbishop Desmond Tutu was entirely dedicated to serving his brothers and sisters for the greater common good. He was a true humanitarian and a committed advocate of human rights. His work for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an inspiration for others around the world.
“With his passing away, we have lost a great man, who lived a truly meaningful life. He was devoted to the service of others, especially those who are least fortunate. I am convinced the best tribute we can pay him and keep his spirit alive is to do as he did and constantly look to see how we too can be of help to others.”

The Nelson Mandela Foundation

“The loss of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu is immeasurable. His contributions to struggles against injustice, locally and globally, are matched only by the depth of his thinking about the making of liberatory futures for human societies. He was an extraordinary human being. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this most difficult time.” 

The foundation’s chief executive Sello Hatang said: “The Arch meant everything to me. I first met him during the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and was privileged to work with him on a number of projects over the years. He was a friend to Madiba and to the foundation.” 

“Madiba and the Arch were both founding members of The Elders, an international grouping of inspirational leaders which has done human rights work in countries around the world. 

“We owe it both to Madiba and to the Arch to continue working for the country and the world of their dreams,” said Hatang. “Their intersecting legacies are powerful resources for social justice work.” 

“When Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013, Archbishop Emeritus Tutu said: ‘This is a man who cared.’ As the foundation mourns today the passing of our beloved Arch, we in turn can say precisely the same of him. May he rest in peace.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa

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

“Desmond Tutu was a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead.

“A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world.”

Archbishop of Canterbury 

“The death of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu … is news that we receive with profound sadness — but also with profound gratitude as we reflect upon his life. My prayers and condolences are with his family and all who loved him, with the Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa, and all of the people of South Africa. 

“Arch’s love transformed the lives of politicians and priests, township dwellers and world leaders. The world is different because of this man.

“Archbishop Tutu was a prophet and priest, a man of words and action, one who embodied the hope and joy that were the foundations of his life. He was a man of extraordinary personal courage and bravery: when the police burst into [the] Cape Town Cathedral, he defied them by dancing down the aisle.

“He was a pioneer, the first Black archbishop of Cape Town, the pioneer of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“He was a great warrior for justice who never stopped fighting – whether it was for those in his own country, for inclusivity in the South African Constitution, or for those suffering injustice around the world.

“Most of all he was a Christian disciple – that was the root of everything else. His greatest love is now realised as he meets his Lord face to face.”

The Most Reverend Dr Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa

“While we mourn his passing, as Christians and people of faith we must also celebrate the life of a deeply spiritual person whose alpha and omega — his starting point and his ending point — was his relationship with our Creator. He took God, God’s purpose and God’s creation deadly seriously. Prayer, the Scriptures and his ministry to the people God entrusted to his care were at the heart of his life.

“He believed totally that each one of us is made in the image of God and ought to be treated as such by others. This belief was not reached through cerebral contemplation; it arose from his faith and was held with a deeply-felt passion. He wanted every human being on earth to experience the freedom, the peace and the joy that all of us could enjoy if we truly respected one another as people created in the image of God.

“In the meantime, let us prayerfully remember him by the epitaph he once chose for himself:

He laughed,

He cried,

He loved.”

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela

“Exceedingly heartsore to note the passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He was one of the best among us. He brought light to darkness and lightness to heaviness. Heartfelt condolences to Mam Leah, the family, friends and staff. May his unconquerable soul #RIP #RIPDesmondTuTu

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi

“Today our nation has been thrust into mourning as we receive the unexpected news of the passing of a beloved South African icon, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. On behalf of the Inkatha Freedom Party, I extend our deepest condolences to the family, to the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation, and to all South Africans.

“Archbishop Tutu served his country with utmost commitment. He was a man of faith and strong convictions who sought freedom for the oppressed. It is no secret, of course, that Archbishop Tutu and I did not always see eye to eye. This is underscored by the friendship we came to know over the last decade of his life. Our faith and our unquestionable love of country were a formidable binding agent.” 


“The African National Congress joins South Africans and the global community in mourning the sad passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. The Arch was not only an extraordinary human being, he also served as a reminder of the role that he and many other religious leaders played in bringing apartheid to its knees and restoring the dignity of all South Africans. Following the fall of apartheid, Archbishop Tutu campaigned for gay rights and spoke on a wide range of subjects, among them the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, [and] his opposition … conscientised the world about climate change. Indeed the big baobab tree has fallen.” 

Ugandan opposition politician Bobi Wine

“The news of the passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu is very sad. A giant has fallen. We thank God for his life — a purposeful life, truly lived in the service of humanity. May his soul rest in peace. Condolences to all people world-over who were touched by his life and ministry.”

UK entrepreneur Richard Branson

“I’m so sad that Arch has passed away — the world has lost a giant. He was a brave leader, a mischievous delight, a profound thinker, and a dear friend.
It’s hard to express just how much of an inspiration Arch is to the world and to those fortunate to have crossed paths with him. Our friendship goes back to the founding days of The Elders. He was a tireless campaigner for justice, an unwavering champion of human rights and was never afraid to speak truth to power. Through a message of optimism, hope and love, he showed South Africa and the world how to set aside what divides, learn from the past and join together to build a better future.
“Arch was one of the most positive, funny, life-affirming people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He had no airs and graces, and always made everyone laugh.”