News / South Africa / Local News

Narissa Subramoney
Copy rewriter
3 minute read
7 Oct 2021
12:47 pm

Tributes flow for Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu as he turns 90

Narissa Subramoney

President Cyril Ramaphosa described Tutu 'as a fighter in the cause for human rights, for equality and social justice in the 59 years since his ordination'.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Picture: Carl DE SOUZA/AFP

Tributes and birthday wishes are streaming in for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu as he turns 90 years old.

The man dubbed as South Africa’s moral compass is also expected to make a rare public appearance to mark the milestone.

He is due to attend a special thanksgiving service at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, where he was appointed South Africa’s first black Anglican archbishop.

This file picture taken on April 3, 1985 shows South African activist and Nobel Peace Prize and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu (C) leading some 30 of his fellow-anglican clergymen through Johannesburg to police headquarters to hand a petition calling for the release of political detainees. GIDEON MENDEL / AFP
On 3 April 1985, this file picture showed South African activist and Nobel Peace Prize and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu leading some 30 of his fellow Anglican clergymen through Johannesburg to police headquarters to hand a petition calling for the release of political detainees. Picture: Gideon Mendel/AFP


The day includes an online lecture from the Dalai Lama, former UN rights chief Mary Robinson, activist and Nelson Mandela’s widow Graca Machel and former public protector Thuli Madonsela.

Later, the “Arch” and his wife Leah will spend the day at home with daughters Naomi and Mpho, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Over the years, Tutu has been known to speak out against injustice. The line-up of birthday speakers is a reminder of his values, at a time when the country’s current leaders are being exposed for lavish lifestyles and billion-dollar bank accounts.

“The Arch is an extraordinary human being. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd,” said the Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO Sello Hatang.

President Cyril Ramaphosa described Tutu “as a fighter in the cause for human rights, for equality and social justice in the 59 years since his ordination”.

The president paid tribute to Tutu “for a life that has been well-lived in honesty, integrity, fearlessness and service to humanity”.

Tutu has been fearless in calling out corruption and fraud. He was one of the first prominent leaders to speak out against former president Jacob Zuma’s government as early as 2009.

Tutu turns 90. Photo – Tutu and Leah Foundation/Instagram.

He has in recent years slammed even the ruling ANC, which fought tirelessly against white minority rule, for cronyism and nepotism after apartheid ended in 1994.

He even confronted homophobia in the Anglican church and challenged the late Mandela about bloated salaries for Cabinet ministers.

“At times when we have found ourselves losing our way, you have taken us well to task,” said Ramaphosa.

“For nearly three decades, yours has been a voice of conscience, guiding us and motivating us to do better by our people,” he said.

Tutu was ordained at the age of 30 and appointed archbishop in 1986.

He famously lobbied for international sanctions against apartheid and later against human rights abuses in the country.

He later turned his focus to the thorny issue of reconciliation in the post-apartheid era as chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Tutu turns 90
Archbishop Emeritus and Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu attended an exhibition and book launch of famous photographs of his life, which have been turned into paintings, on 27 April 2019, in the centre of Cape Town. This event was also organised to commemorate 25 years of democracy in South Africa, as the country’s first democratic elections took place on 27 April 1994. Picture: RODGER BOSCH/AFP

Tutu retired in 2010 and rarely speaks in public now. He was last seen in public in May when he and his wife got their Covid-19 vaccinations.

The Arch was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and has undergone repeated treatment.

Birthday wishes

The ANC also joined the global community in wishing Tutu a happy 90th birthday.

“Today, we celebrate the Arch knowing that he has never been a bystander to history but dedicated his life to the service of the people of South Africa in particular. He tirelessly led from the front for the liberation of our country and the arduous process of building common nationhood, which he endearingly dubbed the ‘rainbow nation’,” said the party in a statement.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde also took to Twitter to share birthday wishes.

“It is a great honour for me, on behalf of the people of the WC, to wish our beloved Archbishop Desmond Tutu a happy 90th birthday,” he tweeted.