When he was born, Desmond Tutu was given the middle name “Mpilo,” Sotho for “life,” because he was a sickly baby, not expected to survive. “That,” he has said, “was my first commitment to faith.”
His faith in the peaceful destiny of South Africa and his commitment to that destiny earned Archbishop Tutu the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize. For years he served as his country’s voice of conscience during its long struggle against apartheid. When that struggle was finally won, he took the first steps, as Chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to minister to the ugly wounds it left behind. On October 29, 1998 the commission submitted its initial report to President Nelson Mandela, marking a significant step in the nation’s healing process, as well as an international reminder of the commitment to the pursuit of freedom and justice.
Archbishop Tutu soothed the spirits and rallied the hearts of his people with simple words of passion and dignity. These words also served to invoke the indignity of the world against South Africa’s apartheid regime. The power of his statesmanship has been preserved in three collections of sermons and addresses: Crying in the Wilderness: The Struggle for Justice in South Africa, Hope and Suffering: Sermons and Speeches, The Words of Desmond Tutu, and The Rainbow People of God.
Throughout the long years dedicated to reclaiming the dignity of his people, Archbishop Tutu always saw himself as “a simple pastor, passionately concerned for justice, peace, and reconciliation.” With his work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission drawing to a close, he has pledged himself to continue to speak out for these concerns, not only in his own country, but throughout the world.
In addition to his recent appointment to Robert W. Woodruff Visiting Professor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Tutu is currently working on the publication of two books; one chronicling the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the other, transfiguration.