Cyril Ramaphosa

President of South Africa

December 21, 2021, in a tribute to the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu

My Fellow South Africans, today is the saddest of days.

Our nation and the world awoke this morning to the sad news that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu passed away peacefully in Cape Town at the age of 90.

In this season of cheer and goodwill, at a time when many people are celebrating with family and friends, we have lost one of the most courageous and beloved among us.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was one of our nation’s finest patriots.

He was a man of unwavering courage, of principled conviction, and whose life was spent in the service of others.

He embodied the essence of our humanity.

Knowing he had been ill for some time has done little to lessen the blow dealt to South Africa this sad day.

Uwile umthi omkhulu. We have lost a person who carried the burden of leadership with compassion, with dignity, with humility, and with such good humor.

We are comforted in the knowledge that he has left an indelible mark in the lives of the millions of people who had the privilege and honor of knowing him.

Like many of his time, he was a witness to the gravest injustices and the most intolerable cruelty.

In his ministry, in his struggle against apartheid, and as Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he saw the depths to which human beings could descend in the subjugation of others.

And yet, his faith in humanity, like his faith in God, was unwavering.

He knew in his soul that good would triumph over evil, that justice would prevail over iniquity, and that reconciliation would prevail over revenge and recrimination. He knew that apartheid would end, that democracy would come.

He knew that our people would be free. By the same measure, he was convinced, even to the end of his life, that poverty, hunger, and misery can be defeated; that all people can live together in peace, security, and comfort.

He was a man of faith who, throughout his life, gave expression to the Biblical teaching that without actions, faith is dead.

For Desmond Mpilo Tutu, it was not enough that he should preach peace.

He had to join with the people of this country, and indeed the people of all countries, in working – tirelessly and diligently – for the attainment of peace. It was not enough for him to bring God’s blessings to the poor and the needy.

He had to join the struggle for social justice, for development, for transformation, so that all may have the necessities of life.

His brave and often critical voice lost none of its vigors when apartheid ended.

He continued his work as a tireless campaigner for the rights of the oppressed. He was frank and forthright, speaking truth to power, even when this meant criticizing the democratic government.

It was through both his words and his actions that he earned his distinguished place in the history of our nation’s struggle for freedom.

It was for these words and these actions, at the height of the brutality of the apartheid state, that he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.

It was an honor that he accepted not for himself, but for all South Africans who stood for freedom, for peace, and for justice.

And it was in receiving this great honor in Oslo that he said: “There is no peace because there is no justice.” 

It was a fundamental principle to which he held throughout his life.

It is a principle to which we must remain true as we mourn his passing.

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