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The Queen leads tributes to Archbishop Desmond Tutu following his death

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  • Desmond Tutu
    Desmond Tutu
    South African churchman, politician, archbishop, Nobel Prize winner (1931–2021)

The Queen has paid tribute to Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a tireless champion of human rights following his death aged 90.

Tutu, who helped end apartheid in South Africa died in Cape Town on Boxing Day.

In a message of condolence, the Queen said the whole royal family were “deeply saddened” by the news.

The message said: “I am joined by the whole Royal Family in being deeply saddened by the news of the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a man who tirelessly championed human rights in South Africa and across the world.

“I remember with fondness my meetings with him and his great warmth and humour. Archbishop Tutu’s loss will be felt by the people of South Africa, and by so many people in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and across the Commonwealth where he was held in such high affection and esteem.”

The Prince of Wales later highlighted Tutu’s “bravery”, writing in a statement on Twitter: “My wife and I are deeply saddened to hear of the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu whose bravery in speaking out against the evil of apartheid and highlighting the threat of climate change was an inspiration to us all.”

Nicknamed “The Arch”, Tutu was made the first black Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986 and was a driving force to end the policy of racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s.

His work led to him receiving numerous doctorates and academic awards from all over the world, including a Nobel Prize.

Tutu retired from public life in 2010 but continued to do charity work through the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation and speak out on certain issues.

One of his final public appearances was in 2019 when he met the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and their son, Archie, in South Africa.

In a statement, Harry and Meghan said: “Archbishop Tutu will be remembered for his optimism, his moral clarity, and his joyful spirit.

“He was an icon for racial justice and beloved across the world.

“It was only two years ago that he held our son, Archie, while we were in South Africa – ‘Arch and The Arch’ he had joked, his infectious laughter ringing through the room, relaxing anyone in his presence.

“He remained a friend and will be sorely missed by all.”

Desmond Tutu with the Duchess of Sussex and Archie in 2019 (Toby Melville/PA) (PA Archive)
Desmond Tutu with the Duchess of Sussex and Archie in 2019 (Toby Melville/PA) (PA Archive)

Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell described him as a “giant”, adding that “the world itself feels a little smaller without him”.

“His expansive vision of how the Christian faith shapes the whole of life has touched many hearts and changed many lives,” he said in a statement.

“The Anglican church in particular gives thanks for one of its greatest saints. But Christian people everywhere, and all people of goodwill, will today be mourning the loss of someone who showed the world what following Jesus looks like and where it leads.”

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, described Tutu as “a man of words and action”.

He told Sky News: “He was the rainbow leader. He didn’t stick with one group. He defended the rights of LGBT people in the constitution. He defended the rights of former enemies.”

Tutu addressing the Nelson Mandela Freedom Rally in Hyde Park, London, in 1988 (PA) (PA Wire)
Tutu addressing the Nelson Mandela Freedom Rally in Hyde Park, London, in 1988 (PA) (PA Wire)

Outlining Tutu’s legacy, he added: “Can we be a humanity that says, ‘My gain need not be your loss, your gain need not be my loss? We can both flourish and grow’. That is, I think, the greatest part of Tutu’s legacy for the world.”

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said it was “another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa.”

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, which highlighted the friendship between Mandela and Tutu, said the loss of him was “immeasurable”.

US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden said they were “heartbroken” to discover Tutu had died.

“We were blessed to spend time with him on several occasions over the past many years,” the pair said in a statement.

“His courage and moral clarity helped inspire our commitment to change American policy toward the repressive Apartheid regime in South Africa.”

Former prime minister Tony Blair said he was “saddened” by Tutu’s death and that he had made an “immense contribution to the ending of apartheid and South Africa’s transition to democracy.”

“His spiritual leadership and willingness to take action in pursuit of peaceful change earned him the respect of millions in South Africa and the rest of the world,” Mr Blair said. “My condolences to his wife, his family and loved ones.”

Desmond Tutu with his wife Leah at Heathrow Airport (PA) (PA Wire)
Desmond Tutu with his wife Leah at Heathrow Airport (PA) (PA Wire)

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Steel, an ex-president of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, added: “Desmond Tutu was a gigantic and effective opponent of apartheid and a very dear friend.

“He was able to use his position as archbishop to oppose the apartheid government and then to usher in the truth and reconciliation process under the new government.

“His vital role can never be underestimated.”

According to the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, Tutu died peacefully at the Oasis Frail Care Centre in Cape Town.

A cause of death has not been given.

He is survived by his wife Leah and their four children.

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