homehomepeopleMpilo Desmond Tutu

Names: Tutu, Mpilo Desmond

Born: 7 October 1931, Klerksdorp, North West Province, South Africa

In Summary: Cleric, anti-apartheid activist, Nobel laureate and former Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Desmond Tutu was born in Klerksdorp on 7 October 1931. As a youngster he attended mission schools in Klerksdorp. His father was a teacher, who was educated at Madibane High School. In 1954 Tutu completed a teaching diploma from the Pretoria Bantu Normal College and later 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 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. He was known by many as the barefoot 'waif' who strayed onto the path of greatness and in a gesture of faith and courage, armed only with the bible under his arm, Tutu would confront the forces of South African repression (usually the SAP) during their attempts to break up a demonstrations.

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, 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 of the Province of Southern Africa (1986-1996). Tutu is the recipient of the Order for Meritorious Service Award (Gold) presented by President Nelson Mandela in 1996 .

In 1995 Tutu was appointed chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was put into place to deal with the atrocities of the past. He retired as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996 to devote all his time to the work of the TRC. A year later Tutu announced that he would undergo several months of treatment in the United States for prostate cancer, but continued to work with the commission.

Tutu coined the phrase ‘Rainbow Nation’ and firmly believes in the possibility of interracial harmony in South Africa.

To this day, Tutu travels extensively and leads a full life even though he is still suffering from cancer.

He is currently deeply distressed about the human rights abuses in Burma and he has called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. 

He repeatedly appealed for peace in Zimbabwe and compared the actions of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's government to those of the South African apartheid regime. Tutu is highly revered for his knowledge, views and experience, especially in the reconciliation process.

Within South Africa health issues are of deep concern to him, HIV/AIDS and TB in particular, while he also speaks out on moral political questions.

Tutu is married to Leah Nomalizo Shinxani and they have four children. Their family home is in Soweto but the Archbishop’s office is in Cape Town, where he and his wife also have a home and where the public ministry of the Archbishop is located.

He holds honorary degrees from a large number of Universities throughout the world.


  • Gastrow, S. (1985) Who's Who In South African Politics, Johannesburg: Ravan, pp. 307-309.
  • Hayes, S. (ed)(2000). Who’s Who of Southern Africa 2001…, Graighall: Jonathan Ball, p. 347.
  • Desmond Tutu, website: wikipedia.org
  • Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu website: moreorless.au.com