Desmond Tutu Dies at 90; Admirers Remember Christian Leader and Activist Through His Words

Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu is seen in this October 2013 image. (Photo: Libris Förlag, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu died with his wife by his side at a care center in Cape Town, South Africa, it was reported Sunday. News of the 90-year-old Christian leader and social activist’s death inspired admirers to share some of his famous quotes to honor him.

“A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement on the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s passing.

Though Tutu’s exact cause of death was unknown, he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and was frequently admitted to the hospital after suffering infections related to his treatment.

As news of the revered anti-apartheid icon spread, many sought to remember Tutu by recalling some of his notable remarks.

Related: ‘Desmond Tutu’ Author Talks Ubuntu Theology, America’s Need for Truth and Reconciliation

Here are 11 quotes by Desmond Tutu mourners have been sharing in celebration of the late archbishop’s life and work.

Desmond Tutu Faithfully Magazine
Desmond Tutu. (Photo: Elke Wetzig (Elya) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
'Your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.' - Desmond Tutu Click to Tweet

“Your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.” (Made for Goodness, via Google Books)

'If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.' - Desmond Tutu Click to Tweet

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” (Oxford Reference)

'We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.' - Desmond Tutu Click to Tweet

“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.” (Oxford Reference)

“My father used to say: ‘Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.’” (Oxford Reference)

(Quoting Kenyan leader Jomo Kenyatta) “When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible, and they had the land.” (The Guardian)

'Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.' - Desmond Tutu Click to Tweet

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” (NY Times)

'Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.' - Desmond Tutu Click to Tweet

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” (Reuters)

“Cultivate your forgiveness with your friends, with your family, with strangers, and with yourself. Remind yourself that every person you encounter carries a sorrow and a struggle. Recognise that we all share a fundamental humanity.” (The Book of Forgiving, via Goodreads)

Related: Lessons From Desmond Tutu’s Vision of a Post-Apartheid South Africa

“We are made to exist in a delicate network of interdependence. We are sisters and brothers, whether we like it or not. To treat anyone as if they were less than human, less than a brother or a sister, no matter what they have done, is to contravene the very laws of our humanity. And those who shred the web of interconnectedness cannot escape the consequences of their actions.” (Huffpost)

“Transformation begins in you, wherever you are, whatever has happened, however you are suffering. Transformation is always possible. We do not heal in isolation. When we reach out and connect with one another – when we tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness, and renew or release the relationship – our suffering begins to transform.” (The Book of Forgiving, via Goodreads)

'Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong....' - Desmond Tutu Click to Tweet

“Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking, but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.” (Greater Good Magazine)

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Written by FM Editors

Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold and exciting news and culture publication that covers issues, conversations and events impacting Christian communities of color.

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