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Desmond Tutu/Early Life

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Part of the series on
Desmond Tutu
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The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu
Early Life
Tutu's role during apartheid
Tutu's role since apartheid
Role in South Africa
Chairman of the Elders
Role in the Third World
Israel
China
United Nations Role
Political Views
Other Humanitarian Initiatives
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Early life

Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, Transvaal on 7 October 1931, the second of the three children of Zacheriah Zililo Tutu and his wife, Aletta, although the only son.[1] Tutu's family moved to Johannesburg when he was twelve. His father was a teacher and his mother a cleaner and cook at a school for the blind.[2] Here he met Trevor Huddleston who was a parish priest in the black slum of Sophiatown. "One day", said Tutu, "I was standing in the street with my mother when a white man in a priest's clothing walked past. As he passed us he took off his hat to my mother. I couldn't believe my eyes -- a white man who greeted a black working class woman!"[2]

Although Tutu wanted to become a physician, his family could not afford the training, and he followed his father's footsteps into teaching. Tutu studied at the Pretoria Bantu Normal College from 1951 to 1953, and went on to teach at Johannesburg Bantu High School and at Munsienville High School in Mogale City. However, he resigned following the passage of the Bantu Education Act, in protest of the poor educational prospects for black South Africans. He continued his studies, this time in theology, at St Peter's Theology College in Rosettenville and in 1960 was ordained as an Anglican priest following in the footsteps of his mentor and fellow activist, Trevor Huddleston. Tutu then travelled to King's College London, (1962–1966), where he received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Theology. During this time he worked as a part-time curate, first at St. Alban's Church, Golders Green and then at St. Mary's Church in Bletchingley, Surrey.[3] He later returned to South Africa and from 1967 until 1972 used his lectures to highlight the circumstances of the African population. He wrote a letter to Prime Minister B. J. Vorster, in which he described the situation in South Africa as a "powder barrel that can explode at any time": the letter was never answered. He became chaplain at the University of Fort Hare in 1967, a hotbed of dissent and one of the few quality universities for African students in the southern part of Africa. From 1970 to 1972, Tutu lectured at the National University of Lesotho.

Tutu faced a difficult balancing act: voicing black discontent while leading a largely white parish. He alternated charm with challenges as he appealed to his parish's Afrikaner heritage, recalling that their forebears had endured British concentration camps. Somewhat to the bewilderment of other black leaders, he patiently courted Vorster’s successor, P. W. Botha, explaining that even Moses continued to reason with Pharaoh. But white liberals grew nervous when Tutu called for a boycott of South African products.[4] In 1972 Tutu returned to the UK, where he was appointed vice-director of the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches, at Bromley in Kent. He returned to South Africa in 1975 and was appointed Anglican Dean of St. Mary's Cathedral in Johannesburg -— the first "Black" person to hold that position.

Personal life

On 2 July 1955, Tutu married Nomalizo Leah Shenxane, a teacher whom he had met while at college. They had four children: Trevor Thamsanqa Tutu, Theresa Thandeka Tutu, Naomi Nontombi Tutu and Mpho Andrea Tutu, all of whom attended the Waterford Kamhlaba School in Swaziland.[5]

His son, Trevor Tutu, caused a bombscare at East London Airport in 1989 and was arrested. In 1991 he was convicted of contravening the Civil Aviation Act by falsely claiming there had been a bomb on board a South African Airways' plane at East London Airport.[6] The bomb threat delayed the Johannesburg bound flight for more than three hours, costing South African Airways some R28000. At the time Trevor Tutu announced his intention to appeal against his sentence, but failed to arrive for the appeal hearings. He forfeited his bail of R15000.[6] He was due to begin serving his sentence in 1993, but failed to hand himself over to prison authorities. He was finally arrested in Johannesburg in August 1997. He applied for amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was granted in 1997. He was then released from Goodwood Prison in Cape Town where he had begun serving his three-and-a-half year prison sentence after a court in East London refused to grant him bail.[7]

Naomi Tutu, founded the Tutu Foundation for Development and Relief in Southern Africa, based in Hartford, Connecticut. She has followed in her father's footsteps as a human rights activist and is currently a program coordinator for the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee.[8] Desmond Tutu's other daughter, Mpho Tutu, has also followed her father's footsteps and in 2004 was ordained an Episcopal priest by her father.[9] She is also the founder and executive director of the Tutu Institute for Prayer and Pilgrimage and the chairperson of the board of the Global AIDS Alliance.[10]

In 1997, Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent successful treatment in the US. He subsequently became patron of the South African Prostate Cancer Foundation which was established in 2007.[11]



  1. Miller, Lindsay. "Desmond Tutu - A Man with a Mission". http://www.ccds.charlotte.nc.us/History/Africa/02/miller/miller.htm. Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Aarvik, Egil (1984). "Presentation Speech of 1984 Nobel Prize for Peace". The Nobel Foundation. http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1984/presentation-speech.html. Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  3. Gish, Steven (2004). Desmond Tutu. A Biography. Greenwood Press. doi:10.1336/0313328609. ISBN 978-0-313-32860-2. 
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named tutustory
  5. "Our Patron - Archbishop Desmond Tutu". Cape Town Child Welfare. http://www.helpkids.org.za/pages.php?id=26. Retrieved 2008-06-06. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Trevor Tutu freed from prison after being granted amnesty". SAPA. 28 November 1997. http://www.doj.gov.za/trc/media/1997/9711/s971128s.htm. Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  7. "Tutu's son in amnesty bid". Dispatch. 27 September 1997. http://www.dispatch.co.za/1997/09/27/page%209.htm. Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  8. "Nontombi Naomi Tutu". Kent State University. http://dept.kent.edu/violence_symposium/naomi_tutu.htm. Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  9. "Reverend Mpho Tutu". 2004 Women of Distinction. 2004. http://pages.interlog.com/~saww/2004Mpho.html. Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  10. "The Reverend Mpho A. Tutu". Tutu Institute. http://www.tutuinstitute.org/user/Tutu_BIO.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-02-06-01. 
  11. Prostate Cancer Foundation of South Africa (3 March 2007). "Taking the fight against prostate cancer to South Africans". Press release. http://www.prostatecancerfoundation.co.za/A_Aboutus_Media.asp. Retrieved 2008-04-23. 

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