1998 - 1999: Desmond Tutu

The first annual University of Alberta Visiting Lectureship in Human Rights was delivered by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Sunday, November 29, 1998 at 3 p.m.

About Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu was born in Klerksdorp South Africa, in 1931, son of a school teacher and a domestic worker. At the age of 12 he first met and was later greatly influenced by Father Trevor Huddleston, an Anglican cleric in the Johannesburg township of Sophiatown and outspoken early critic of apartheid.

After matriculating from the Johannesburg Bantu High School, he chose to follow his father's career. He took a teacher's diploma at the Pretoria Bantu Normal College and studied for his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of South Africa. He was a teacher at the Johannesburg Bantu High School for a year and then moved to Munsieville High School Krugersdorp for three years. It was here that he married his wife, Leah. They have three daughters, a son and several grandchildren.

In 1958, following the introduction of Bantu education, the Archbishop decided to enter the ministry in the Church of the Province of Southern Africa and become an ordinand at St. Peter's Theological College, Rosettenville. He received his Licentiate in Theology in 1960 and was ordained to the priesthood in Johannesburg in 1961. Shortly afterwards he went to study in London, where he obtained the Bachelor of Divinity Honours and Master of Theology degrees while acting as a part-time curate. In 1967 he returned to South Africa and joined the staff of the Federal Theological Seminary in Alice and became chaplain at the University of Fort Hare. He moved to the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland in 1970 where he held the post of lecturer in the Department of Theology. This step was followed by a further spell in England as Associate Director of the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches, based in Kent, UK.

Tutu became Dean of St. Mary's Cathedral, Johannesburg, in 1975, but shortly thereafter was elected Bishop of Lesotho. By this time South Africa was in turmoil, in the wake of the Soweto uprising of 1976, and Bishop Tutu was persuaded to leave the calm diocese of Lesotho to take up the post of General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). It was in this position, a post he held from 1978-1985, that Bishop Tutu became a national and international figure.

The SACC represented all the major Christian churches in South Africa, apart from the Dutch Reformed Church and the Catholic Church (the latter is, however, an accredited observer of the SACC). A subsidiary body of the WCC, the SACC is committed to the cause of ecumenism and to fulfilling the social responsibility of the Church. Justice and Reconciliation feature prominently among its priorities. As General Secretary, Bishop Tutu pursued these goals with vigour and commitment. He built up the SACC into an important institution in South African spiritual and political life, which voiced the ideals and aspirations of millions of South African Christians. Under the leadership of Bishop Tutu the South African Council of Churches established an effective machinery for providing assistance to the victims of apartheid. Inevitably Bishop Tutu became heavily embroiled in controversy as he spoke out against the injustice of the apartheid system. For several years he was denied a passport to travel abroad, but in 1982 the South African government withdrew this restriction in the face of national and international concern. The name of Bishop Tutu became synonymous with that of the SACC as he became the leader of the crusade for justice and racial conciliation in South Africa. In 1984, Bishop Tutu's contribution to the cause of racial justice in South Africa was recognised when he received the highest award the world can offer - the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1985 Bishop Tutu was elected Bishop of Johannesburg. In this capacity he did much to bridge the chasm between the black and white Anglicans in South Africa. His office as Bishop of Johannesburg was of short duration, as in 1986 he was elected Archbishop of Cape Town. In electing him the Anglican Church placed its trust in him as its spiritual leader and showed its confidence in his pursuit of racial justice in South Africa. In 1987 he was elected as President of the All Africa Conference of Churches.

Before the unbanning of the African National Congress and other political organizations in 1990 there were many critics of Archbishop Tutu who, despite his protestations to the contrary, predicted that he would enter political life. But he did not seek political position. Instead, he became a principal mediator and conciliator in the difficult period of South African history between the release of Nelson Mandela and the first democratic elections, during which there was intense political conflict as parties negotiated the country's first democratic constitution.

After the elections, President Mandela appointed Archbishop Tutu as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body charged with dealing with the legacy of human rights violations during the apartheid era.

Archbishop Tutu was elected a Fellow of Kings College, London, in 1987. He is Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape. He holds honorary degrees from a number of universities, including Harvard, Oxford, Columbia, the Ruhr, Kent and Aberdeen. He has received many prizes and awards in addition to the Nobel Prize, notably the Order for Meritorious Service Award (Gold) presented by President Mandela, the Archbishop of Canterbury's Award for outstanding Service to the Anglican Communion, the Prix d'Athene (Onassis Foundation), the Family of Man Gold Medal Award and the Martin Luther King Jr. Non Violent Peace Prize.

Before 1990, Archbishop Tutu's vigorous advocacy of social justice made him a figure of great controversy. Today he is seen more as an elder statesman with a major role to play in reconciliation. He has appealed to the parties in the Government of National Unity for peaceful cooperation in South Africa and an end to violence and corruption. He is one of the very few people who appear to have the standing to effect reconciliation between black and white.

He retired from office as Archbishop of Cape Town in June 1996, but was named Archbishop Emeritus as of July 1996.

Archbishop Tutu is the author of a number of collections of sermons and addresses:

  • Crying in the Wilderness (1982)
  • Hope and Suffering: Sermons and Speeches (1983)
  • The Words of Desmond Tutu (1989)
  • The Rainbow People of God (1994)
  • The Essential Desmond Tutu (1997)