Archbishop Desmond Tutu (r) with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (l).(Photo: Lambeth Palace)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a pivotal figure in ending apartheid in South Africa, has died aged 90.

Tutu, known affectionately as ‘Arch’, was a Nobel Peace prize laureate and worked closely with Nelson Mandela to end racial segregation in South Africa. 

He also broke barriers in the Church, becoming the first black Archbishop of Cape Town. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, called Tutu a “pioneer” and said his death was “a great loss”.

He said he had received news of Tutu’s death with “profound sadness” but also “profound gratitude” because of the impact of his life. 

“Arch’s love transformed the lives of politicians and priests, township dwellers and world leaders. The world is different because of this man,” he said. 

“Archbishop Tutu was a prophet and priest, a man of words and action, one who embodied the hope and joy that were the foundations of his life. He was a man of extraordinary personal courage and bravery: when the police burst into Cape Town Cathedral, he defied them by dancing down the aisle.

“He was a man of enormous vision: seeing the possibilities for building the Rainbow Nation long before anyone else, except perhaps President Mandela.

“His vision and bravery were allied with a canny political sense and wisdom, enabling him to be a healer and apostle of peace while so many still saw wounds and war.” 

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said Tutu was “a giant” not only of the faith but of his nation of South Africa. 

“One of the great and abiding images of the second half of the 20th century was Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela dancing in the courtroom at the end of the closing session of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Cape Town. Nelson Mandela asked his friend Desmond Tutu to chair the Commission,” Cottrell said in a statement. 

“It was a bold and creative way of helping a nation divided brutally between black and white learn to live in glorious technicolour by facing up to the horrors of its past and by putting the Christian imperative for forgiveness alongside the need for truth as the only way of achieving reconciliation.

“And Desmond Tutu was asked to chair it because this incredibly joyful little disciple of Jesus Christ was one of the few people in South Africa other than Nelson Mandela himself, who could unite the nation and carry the trust of everyone.

“In this respect, he was a giant.

“The world itself feels a little smaller without him.” 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa thanked Tutu for the gift of “a liberated South Africa”. 

He said Tutu’s death marked “another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans”.

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