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Obituary: ‘Until all of Us are Free, None of Us is Really Free’ – Desmond Tutu

Author: Matthew Hassan Kukah

Affiliation: Bishop at the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto

Organization/Publisher: the Africa Report 

Date/Place: January 4, 2022/ Paris, France

Type of Literature: Commemoration 

Word Count: 2644



Keywords: Apartheid, Church Community, and South Africa


The article discusses the lessons that religious leaders should learn from the rich life experiences and accomplishments of Desmond Tutu, the South African theologian and human rights activist who worked to end apartheid in South Africa through his role as Archbishop of the Catholic Church. Tutu died on December 26, 2021. But his life experience is full of lessons that religious leaders can and must learn about faith, politics, service, and patriotism as well as to revitalize the role of the Church for the new liberation of the continent. Tutu was nominated as the Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches in 1978. He utilized the platform to rally Anglicans and other church leaders to form united efforts and thereby question and force the apartheid regime to think about the future of the country. In the 1980s when the apartheid’s cruelty of dehumanization and oppression deepened in South Africa, Archbishop Tutu organized and led a delegation of Church leaders to face Prime Minister P.W. Botha, to warn of imminent dangers from internal grievances within the black community. In 1984, Tutu was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his opposition to the ruthless apartheid regime in South Africa and he was promoted to be the Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986; both boosted his moral authority in South Africa and abroad. This helped him to increase his rally of Church leaders and urged the need to end apartheid. In 1986 the Archbishop began a call to the international community for an economic boycott of South Africa. The life and work of the Archbishop ‘went into the highest gear’ with the fruit of ending Apartheid, one of the yardsticks of injustice in the history of humanity. While remembering personalities like Tutu and Nelson Mandela, it is important to note that their rise was possible through the works of many other great personalities, some from the past and others who were their contemporaries. Thus, it is worthy to pay attention to the enablers behind the Archbishop’s achievements including those “white liberals and their contribution and the struggles of black people”. Moreover, Tutu was well embedded into the history and culture of Africa which gave his theology resonance and relevance in his struggle against injustices of Apartheid. While “injustice challenges us all”, the life and experiences of Tutu show us the need for the faith community. “Without knowledge of the history, culture, the dreams, the frustrations, agonies, pains, and hopes of our people, theologians risk irrelevance. People will find new gods!” Great personalities like Madiba and Tutu have come and gone, but the problems of Africa persist—growing poverty and deepening inequalities. The loud voices of moral authorities are needed to offer moral clarity towards a better course of life in the continent. The religious leaders cannot commemorate Tutu “without confronting the structures and scaffolding that have allowed the continent to bleed so badly” and owe the Archbishop the moral obligation to sustain raising the bar for equity and justice “because until all of us are free, none of us is really free”.


By: Jemal Muhamed, CIGA Research Associate



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