In a statement announcing his death on Sunday (Dec. 26), South African President Cyril Ramaphosa offered his condolences to Tutu’s family and called him “a patriot without equal.”
“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,” Ramaphosa said.
Becoming the first Black African Archbishop of both Johannesburg and later Cape Town, Tutu was revered for his anti-apartheid and human rights activism. He was named chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission after apartheid — South Africa’s system of racial segregation and white minority rule — ended and formerly imprisoned Nelson Mandela became president.
“[Tutu] was larger than life and for so many in South Africa and around the world his life has been a blessing,” the Nelson Mandela foundation said, calling his loss “immeasurable.” “His contributions to struggles against injustice, locally and globally, are matched only by the depth of his thinking about the making of liberatory futures for human societies.”
Tutu’s advocacy for human rights and nonviolent activism led him to win many honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the latter of which was given to him by Former President Barack Obama in 2009.
“Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a mentor, a friend and a moral compass for me and so many others,” Obama wrote on Twitter after his death. “A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere. He never lost his impish sense of humor and willingness to find humanity in his adversaries, and Michelle and I will miss him dearly.”
Tutu’s cause of death was not disclosed. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and, after receiving treatment, the cancer reappeared in 2005. Tutu was also repeatedly hospitalized in 2015 and 2016 for health issues linked to the cancer.
See tributes to Tutu’s incredible life and legacy on Twitter below.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a mentor, a friend, and a moral compass for me and so many others. A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere. pic.twitter.com/qiiwtw8a5B
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) December 26, 2021
My dad is at rest. Thank you Tshezi for all you have been to our family and the world. Lala ngo xolo Desmond Mpilo Tutu.
— Naomi Tutu (@TutuNaomi) December 26, 2021
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a fervent, vocal opponent of apartheid and committed champion of human rights. He inspired millions, not just in South Africa, but worldwide to stand with those fighting for freedom and justice. My thoughts are with his wife Leah and his entire family.
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) December 26, 2021
“God is not a Christian. God accepts as pleasing those who live by the best lights available to them that they can discern. All truth, all sense of beauty, all awareness of goodness has one source, God, who is not confined to one place, time or people.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu pic.twitter.com/up1o42Hetj
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) December 26, 2021
Today, we are heartbroken to learn of the passing of a true servant of God and of the people, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. We send our deepest condolences to the people of South Africa who are mourning this great loss.
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 26, 2021
Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have shared a statement on the passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: pic.twitter.com/Lz20AjRsNE
— Omid Scobie (@scobie) December 26, 2021
One of the greatest most peaceful Souls has left the planet. A hope giver, peace maker, justice warrior. Thank you Archbishop Desmond Tutu 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/HzyZHKiMef
— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) December 26, 2021
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
Rest In Peace Desmond Tutu 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/bv9nBZT26T
— Joe Neguse (@JoeNeguse) December 26, 2021
Archbishop Tutu helped end apartheid in South Africa by reminding us, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” We remember this hero as we continue the work for equality and justice.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) December 26, 2021
The passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa. pic.twitter.com/vjzFb3QrNZ
— Cyril Ramaphosa 🇿🇦 (@CyrilRamaphosa) December 26, 2021