Who is Desmond Tutu? He's the man known as South Africa's moral conscience!
(If you’re in a hurry, skip the short Desmond Tutu biography, and scroll down to Desmond Tutu Quotes.)
Desmond Tutu (born 1931) South African Archbishop Emeritus, tireless human-rights activist and author
Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, Transvaal in apartheid South Africa on 7 October 1931, his parents’ middle child and only son. His mother worked as a cleaner and cook at a school for the blind and his father was a teacher.
Tutu wanted to become a physician, but his family couldn’t afford the training, so he followed his father into teaching. While studying at college, he met his wife-to-be, also a teacher. They married in 1955 and had four children.
Tutu worked as a high school teacher for three years before resigning to protest the poor educational prospects for black South Africans.
Inspired by a white parish priest Tutu saw treat his mother with respect as a boy, he took up the study of theology and in 1960 was ordained as an Anglican priest.
Tutu received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Theology from King's College London (UK), while working as a part-time curate from 1962 to 1966. Returning to South Africa, he balanced voicing black discontent with leading a largely white parish.
In 1972, Tutu returned to the UK, to be appointed vice-director of the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches. Back in South Africa in 1975, he became the first black person to be appointed Anglican Dean of St. Mary's Cathedral in Johannesburg.
Tutu played a major role, both in South Africa and the world, in apartheid’s downfall.
Vigorously outspoken, he often compared apartheid to Nazism and Communism, for which the South African government twice revoked his passport, and jailed him briefly after a protest march in 1980.
As Bishop of Lesotho and then as Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches, Tutu consistently advocated reconciliation between all the parties involved in apartheid. His international reputation grew for his rigorous advocacy of non-violence, which included criticizing the violent tactics of some anti-apartheid groups, such as the African National Congress.
Since 1976, he supported an economic boycott of his country, arguing for disinvestment as a tool to bring down apartheid. He said that at least the black people who would lose their jobs because of disinvestment would suffer "with a purpose."
In 1985, the US and the UK (two primary investors in South Africa) stopped investing. The value of the South African Rand plummeted by more than 35 percent, pressuring the government toward reform. Tutu seized the moment, organizing peaceful marches that brought 30,000 people onto the streets of Cape Town. Within months, Nelson Mandela was freed from prison, and the walls of apartheid began to crumble.
Together with Mandela, Tutu was instrumental in preventing a violent backlash by blacks against white South Africans. In 1993, for example, at the funeral of assassinated South African Communist Party leader, Chris Hani, Tutu united a crowd of 120,000 around the idea of freedom for blacks and whites together.
It was Tutu who coined the term Rainbow Nation as a rallying cry for all South Africans. And after the abolition of apartheid in 1994, he chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up in 1995. The Commission is held by many to have been crucial in South Africa’s peaceful shift to democracy.
Widely regarded as South Africa's moral conscience, Archbishop Tutu has received countless honours and awards, foremost among them the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his role as a “unifying leader figure in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa.”
He has received more than 100 honorary doctorates from leading universities, principally those in the USA, Britain and Germany.
Tutu remains steadfastly vocal in his defence of human rights. He uses his high profile to campaign for oppressed people, and to fight AIDS, homophobia, poverty and racism wherever they occur.
DESMOND TUTU QUOTES
Desmond Tutu Quotes about Abuse of Power
- People with power have an incredible capacity for wanting to be able to retain that power and don't like scrutiny.
- What is black empowerment when it seems to benefit not the vast majority but an elite that tends to be recycled?
- History, like beauty, depends largely on the beholder, so when you read that, for example, David Livingstone discovered the Victoria Falls, you might be forgiven for thinking that there was nobody around the Falls until Livingstone arrived on the scene.
- For goodness sake, this is God's world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust.
Desmond Tutu Quote about Anger
- Resentment and anger are bad for your blood pressure and your digestion.
Desmond Tutu Quotes about Apartheid
- We will be free! All of us! Black and white together!
- Be nice to the whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity. (In 1984)
- We refuse to be treated as the doormat for the government to wipe its jackboots on.
- We used to say to the apartheid government: you may have the guns, you may have all this power, but you have already lost. Come, join the winning side.
- When a pile of cups is tottering on the edge of the table and you warn that they will crash to the ground, in South Africa you are blamed when that happens. (1985)
- For goodness sake, will they hear, will white people hear what we are trying to say? Please, all we are asking you to do is to recognize that we are humans, too. (1985)
- I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of human rights. (1985)
- We who advocate peace are becoming an irrelevance when we speak peace. The government speaks rubber bullets, live bullets, tear gas, police dogs, detention, and death. (1986)
- Those who invest in South Africa should not think they are doing us a favour; they are here for what they get out of our cheap and abundant labor, and they should know that they are buttressing one of the most vicious systems. (1985)
- We are the rainbow people of God! We are unstoppable! Nobody can stop us on our march to victory! No one, no guns, nothing! Nothing will stop us, for we are moving to freedom! We are moving to freedom and nobody can stop us! For God is on our side!
- At home in South Africa I have sometimes said in big meetings where you have black and white together: “Raise your hands!” Then I have said: “Move your hands,” and I've said “Look at your hands—different colours representing different people. You are the Rainbow People of God.” (1991)
- I am 52 years of age. I am a bishop in the Anglican Church, and a few people might be constrained to say that I was reasonably responsible. In the land of my birth I cannot vote, whereas a young person of eighteen can vote. And why? Because he or she possesses that wonderful biological attribute—a white skin. (In 1984)
- I come from a beautiful land, richly endowed by God with wonderful natural resources, wide expanses, rolling mountains, singing birds, bright shining stars out of blue skies, with radiant sunshine, golden sunshine. There is enough of the good things that come from God's bounty, there is enough for everyone, but apartheid has confirmed some in their selfishness, causing them to grasp greedily a disproportionate share, the lion's share, because of their power. (1984)
Desmond Tutu Quotes about Being Human
- A person is a person through other persons.
- A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons.
- My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.
- We can be human only in fellowship, in community, in koinonia, in peace.
- Fundamental rights belong to the human being just because you are a human being.
- We are not made for an exclusive self-sufficiency but for interdependence, and we break the law of our being at our peril.
- God created us for fellowship. God created us so that we should form the human family, existing together because we were made for one another.
- I hope we can accept a wonderful truth: we are family. We are family. If we could get to believe this we would realize that to care about the other is not being altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest.
Desmond Tutu Quote about Children
- Children are a wonderful gift. They have an extraordinary capacity to see into the heart of things and to expose sham and humbug for what they are.
Desmond Tutu Quote about Christianity
- I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, "Now is that political or social?" He said, "I feed you." Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.
Desmond Tutu Quote about the Dalai Lama
I give great thanks to God that he has created a Dalai Lama. Do you really think, as some have argued, that God will be saying: You know, that guy, the Dalai Lama, is not bad. What a pity he's not a Christian? I don't think that is the case—because, you see, God is not a Christian.
Desmond Tutu Quotes about Detaining People without Trial
- Are you able to restore to those people the time when their freedom was denied them? If you have evidence for goodness sake produce it in a court of law.
- The rule of law is in order to ensure that those who have power don't use their power arbitrarily and every person retains their human rights until you have proven conclusively that so-and-so is in fact guilty. Whilst we are saying thank you that these have been released, what is happening to those left behind? We in South Africa used to have a dispensation that detained people without trial and the world quite rightly condemned that as unacceptable. Now if it was unacceptable then how come it can be acceptable to Britain and the United States. It is so, so deeply distressing. I am opposed to any arbitrary detention that is happening, even in Britain.
Desmond Tutu Quotes about Forgiveness
- Without forgiveness, there's no future.
- Without forgiveness there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations.
- Our Lord would say that in the end the positive thing that can come is the spirit of forgiving. Not forgetting, but the spirit of saying, “God, this happened to us. We pray for those who made it happen, help us to forgive them and help us so that we in our turn will not make others suffer."
Desmond Tutu Quotes about God
- We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.
- God has such a deep reverence for our freedom that he'd rather let us freely go to Hell than be compelled to go to Heaven.
- Sometimes you want to whisper in God's ear, “God, we know you are in charge, but why don't you make it slightly more obvious?"
- You and I are created for transcendence, laughter, caring. God deliberately did not make the world perfect, for God is looking for you and me to be fellow workers with God.
Desmond Tutu Quotes about Goodness
- Freedom and liberty lose out by default because good people are not vigilant.
- It is a moral universe that we inhabit, and good and right equity matter in the universe.
- Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.
- Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.
Desmond Tutu Quotes about Homophobia
- If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn't worship that God.
- (I am) deeply disturbed that in the face of some of the most horrendous problems facing Africa, we concentrate on “what do I do in bed with whom."
- We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about; our very skins... It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given.
- Isn’t it desperately sad that, at a time when we face formidable problems—poverty, HIV/AIDS, conflict—that the Anglican Communion can invest so much energy on disagreements about human sexuality? A communion that used to boast that one of its distinctive characteristics was something called comprehensiveness, that our communion, the Anglican Church, included just about everybody. Even if you had the most weird theology you could come in, you were allowed. And now we, who used to be held up in admiration by many because of this inclusiveness, are now spending time working out how we can excommunicate one another. God looks on and God weeps. God weeps. (2005)
Desmond Tutu Quotes about Human Rights
- When will we learn that human beings are of infinite value because they have been created in the image of God, and that it is a blasphemy to treat them as if they were less than this and to do so ultimately recoils on those who do this?
- Unless we work assiduously so that all of God's children, our brothers and sisters, members of our one human family, all will enjoy basic human rights, the right to a fulfilled life, the right of movement, of work, the freedom to be fully human, with a humanity measured by nothing less than the humanity of Jesus Christ himself, then we are on the road inexorably to self-destruction.
Desmond Tutu Quotes about Injustice
- It is for real that injustice and oppression will not have the last word. There was a time when Hitler looked like he was going to vanquish all of Europe, and where is he now?
- When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said "Let us pray." We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.
- If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
- Injustice and oppression will never prevail. Those who are powerful have to remember the litmus test that God gives to the powerful: what is your treatment of the poor, the hungry, the voiceless? And on the basis of that, God passes judgement.
Desmond Tutu Quote about Justice
- There are different kinds of justice. Retributive justice is largely Western. The African understanding is far more restorative—not so much to punish as to redress or restore a balance that has been knocked askew.
Desmond Tutu Quotes about Oppression
- Perhaps oppression dehumanizes the oppressor as much as, if not more than, the oppressed. They need each other to become truly free, to become human.
- For many years the people of South Africa suffered under the yoke of oppression and apartheid. Many people continue to suffer brutal oppression, where their fundamental dignity as human beings is denied. One such people is the people of West Papua.
Desmond Tutu Quotes about Peace
- God's Shalom, peace, involves inevitably righteousness, justice, wholeness, fullness of life, participation in decision-making, goodness, laughter, joy, compassion, sharing and reconciliation.
- We in South Africa had a relatively peaceful transition. If our madness could end as it did, it must be possible to do the same everywhere else in the world. If peace could come to South Africa, surely it can come to the Holy Land.
- We should put out a clarion call to the government of the people of Israel, to the Palestinian people and say: Peace is possible, peace based on justice is possible. We will do all we can to assist you to achieve this peace, because it is God's dream, and you will be able to live amicably together as sisters and brothers.
- Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people. A true peace can ultimately be built only on justice. We condemn the violence of suicide bombers, and we condemn the corruption of young minds taught hatred; but we also condemn the violence of military incursions in the occupied lands, and the inhumanity that won't let ambulances reach the injured.
Desmond Tutu Quote about Poverty
- We have the capacity to feed ourselves several times over, but we are daily haunted by the spectacle of the gaunt dregs of humanity shuffling along in endless queues, with bowls to collect what the charity of the world has provided, too little too late. When will we learn, when will the people of the world get up and say, Enough is enough.
Desmond Tutu Quotes about South Africa
- South Africa, so utterly improbably, is a beacon of hope in a dark and troubled world.
- I long and work for a South Africa that is more open and more just. Where people count and where they have equal access to the good things of life. With equal opportunity to live, work and learn.
- Reconciliation is a long process. We don't have the kind of race clashes that we thought would happen. What we have is xenophobia, and it's very distressing. But maybe you ought to be lenient with us. We've been free for just 12 years.
- What has happened to us? It seems as if we have perverted our freedom, our rights into license, into being irresponsible. Perhaps we did not realize just how apartheid has damaged us so that we seem to have lost our sense of right and wrong.
Desmond Tutu Quotes about Ubuntu
- Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language... It is to say, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours.”
- A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.
Desmond Tutu Quote about Unconditional Love
- This family has no outsiders. Everyone is an insider. When Jesus said, "I, if I am lifted up, will draw..." Did he say, I will draw some? I will draw some, and tough luck for the others? He said, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all." All! All! All! Black, white, yellow; rich, poor; clever, not so clever; beautiful, not so beautiful. All! All! It is radical. All! Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Bush—all! All! All are to be held in this incredible embrace. Gay, lesbian, so-called "straight.” All! All! All are to be held in the incredible embrace of the love that won’t let us go.
Desmond Tutu Quotes about Violence
- You must show the world that you abhor fighting.
- I will never tell anyone to pick up a gun. But I will pray for the man who picks up a gun, pray that he will be less cruel than he might otherwise have been.
- The reprisal against the suicide bomber does not bring peace. There is a suicide bomber, a reprisal and then a counter-reprisal. And it just goes on and on.
Desmond Tutu Quotes about War
- When will we learn that an escalated arms race merely escalates global insecurity?
- When does compassion, when does morality, when does caring come in? I just hope that one day that people will realize that peace is a far better path to follow.
- You can never win a war against terror as long as there are conditions in the world that make people desperate—poverty, disease, ignorance, etc. I think people are beginning to realize that you can't have pockets of prosperity in one part of the world and huge deserts of poverty and deprivation, and think that you can have a stable and secure world.
- Because there is global insecurity, nations are engaged in a mad arms race, spending billions of dollars wastefully on instruments of destruction, when millions are starving. And yet, just a fraction of what is expended so obscenely on defense budgets would make the difference in enabling God's children to fill their stomachs, be educated, and given the chance to lead fulfilled and happy lives.