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Desmond Tutu, the retired Archbishop of Cape Town who rose to prominence as the first black leader of the Anglican Church in South Africa to become a leader in the anti-apartheid struggle, has died at the age of 90 after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. In a statement released Sunday morning,  South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, praised the Nobel Prize Laureate – affectionately nicknamed “the Arch” – as the latest in a generation of revolutionary leaders to pass away peacefully following the death of the country’s first post-apartheid president, Nelson Mandela, eight years ago.

“From the pavements of resistance in South Africa to the pulpits of the world’s great cathedrals and places of worship, and the prestigious setting of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Arch distinguished himself as a non-sectarian, inclusive champion of universal human rights,” President Ramaphosa said.

He was the last surviving member of the group of South Africans who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

Tutu – whom the AP praised for galvanizing support for the anti-apartheid movement with moving speeches and peaceful demonstrations both at home, and abroad – died peacefully at the Oasis Frail Care Center in Cape Town. He and his wife had been living in a retirement community outside Cape Town.

As South Africans faced anti-apartheid violence and a state of emergency giving police and the military sweeping powers during the 1980s, Tutu was one of the most prominent black leaders able to speak out against these and other abuses. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, Tutu became, in the AP’s words, “one of the world’s most effective champions for human rights, a responsibility he took seriously for the rest of his life.”

Following Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 after 27 years, the soon-to-be-elected South African President spent the first night of freedom at Tutu’s residence in Cape Town. He later called Tutu “the people’s archbishop.” After becoming president in 1994, Mandela appointed Tutu to be chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, tasked with uncovering abuses from the anti-apartheid system.

Tutu also campaigned internationally on behalf of LGBTQ rights, saying he would “not worship a God who is homophobic.”

“I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this,” he said in 2013, launching a campaign for LGBT rights in Cape Town. “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say, ‘Sorry, I would much rather go to the other place.’”

Readers can find the rest of President Ramaphosa’s statement below:

“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. “As Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission he articulated the universal outrage at the ravages of apartheid and touchingly and profoundly demonstrated the depth of meaning of ubuntu, reconciliation and forgiveness.”

“He placed his extensive academic achievements at the service of our struggle and at the service of the cause for social and economic justice the world over. From the pavements of resistance in South Africa to the pulpits of the world’s great cathedrals and places of worship, and the prestigious setting of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Arch distinguished himself as a non-sectarian, inclusive champion of universal human rights.”

“In his richly inspiring yet challenging life, Desmond Tutu overcame tuberculosis, the brutality of the apartheid security forces and the intransigence of successive apartheid regimes. Neither Casspirs, teargas nor security agents could intimidate him or deter him from his steadfast belief in our liberation.”

“He remained true to his convictions during our democratic dispensation and maintained his vigour and vigilance as he held leadership and the burgeoning institutions of our democracy to account in his inimitable, inescapable and always fortifying way.”

“We share this moment of deep loss with Mam Leah Tutu, the Archbishop’s soulmate and source of strength and insight, who has made a monumental contribution in her own right to our freedom and to the development of our democracy. “We pray that Archbishop Tutu’s soul will rest in peace but that his spirit will stand sentry over the future of our nation.”

Leaders and celebrities the world over reacted to the news of his death on Twitter, including former President Barack Obama, who called Tutu a “mentor” and a “friend”:

Born Oct. 7, 1931, in Klerksdorp, a town West of Johannesburg, Tutu became a teacher before entering St. Peter’s Theological College in Rosetenville in 1958 for training as a priest. He was ordained in 1961 and six years later became chaplain at the University of Fort Hare. He eventually moved to the tiny southern African kingdom of Lesotho, and then on to Britain, before returning home in 1975. He became bishop of Lesotho, chairman of the South African Council of Churches and, in 1985 the first black Anglican bishop of Johannesburg. Then in 1986, the first black archbishop of Cape Town. He was known for ordaining women priests and also promoted gay priests.


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