Key dates in the life of SA cleric and activist Desmond Tutu

A timeline of key dates in the life of 'moral compass of the nation'

Archbishop Desmond Tutu rejoices after receiving the freedom of the City in Cape Town in 1998.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu rejoices after receiving the freedom of the City in Cape Town in 1998.
Image: Oryx Media Archive

A timeline of key dates in Desmond Tutu's life:

1931 – Desmond Tutu is born in Klerksdorp, a town about 170km to the west of Johannesburg.

1943 – Tutu's Methodist family joins the Anglican Church.

1948 – The white National Party launches apartheid in the run-up to 1948 national elections. It wins popular support among white voters who want to maintain their dominance over the black majority.

1955 – Tutu marries Nomalizo Leah Shenxane and begins teaching at a high school in Johannesburg where his father is the headmaster.

1958 – Tutu quits the school, refusing to be part of a teaching system that promotes inequality against black students. He joins the priesthood.

1975 –Tutu becomes the first black Anglican dean of Johannesburg.

1980 – As general secretary of the SA Council of Churches, Tutu leads a delegation of church leaders to prime minister PW Botha, urging him to end apartheid.

1984 – Tutu is awarded the Nobel peace prize for his efforts to bring about the end of white minority rule.

1985 – Tutu becomes the first black bishop of Johannesburg. He publicly endorses an economic boycott of SA and civil disobedience as a way to dismantle apartheid.

1986 - Tutu becomes the first black person appointed as bishop of Cape Town and head of the Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa.

1990 – State president FW de Klerk unbans the ANC and other anti-apartheid political organisations and announces plans to release Nelson Mandela from prison.

1991 – Apartheid laws and racist restrictions are repealed and power-sharing talks start between the state and 16 anti-apartheid groups.

1994 – After Mandela sweeps to power at the helm of the ANC in the country's first democratic elections, Tutu coins the term “Rainbow Nation” to describe the coming together of various races in post-apartheid SA.

1994 – Mandela asks Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was set up to listen to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to perpetrators of human rights violations under apartheid.

1996 – Tutu retires from the church to focus solely on the commission. He continues his activism, advocating for equality and reconciliation and is later named archbishop emeritus.

1997 – Tutu is diagnosed with prostate cancer.

2011 – The Dalai Lama inaugurates the annual Desmond Tutu international peace lecture but does so via satellite link after the SA government denies the Tibetan spiritual leader a visa to attend.

2013 – Tutu makes outspoken comments about the ANC. He says he will no longer vote for the party because it had done a bad job addressing inequality, violence and corruption.

2013 – Dubbed “the moral compass of the nation”, Tutu declares his support for gay rights, saying he would never “worship a God who is homophobic”.

2021 – A frail-looking Tutu is wheeled into his former parish at St George's Cathedral in Cape Town, which used to be a safe haven for anti-apartheid activists, for a special thanksgiving service marking his 90th birthday.

December 26 2021 – Tutu dies in Cape Town, aged 90.

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