Remembering Desmond Tutu’s life and legacy

Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning icon, died Sunday at 90. Tutu’s passionate voice helped end South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime that oppressed its Black majority for decades. World leaders, South Africans and people around the globe mourned his death and praised the life he lived and the legacy he leaves behind, including his more recent work as an activist for racial justice and LGBTQ rights. NewsHour Special Correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault joins.

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  • Desmond Tutu:

    We raise our hands and we say 'we will be free, all of us, Black and white together, for we are marching to freedom.'

  • Michael Hill:

    Archbishop Desmond Tutu was an Anglican bishop and a leader of the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. Born in 1931, he followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a high school teacher. He then switched paths to become an Anglican priest. Tutu was on the frontline fighting for freedom and equality in South Africa, where racially segregated apartheid began in 1948.

  • Desmond Tutu:

    We know, we know, we shall overcome the evil.

  • Michael Hill:

    In 1984, tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in advocating for non-violent protest to end the brutal practice of white-minority rule.

  • Desmond Tutu:

    Welcome our brand new state president, out of the box, Nelson Mandela!

  • Michael Hill:

    In 1994, South Africa elected its first black president Nelson Mandela. Tutu said voting in that democratic election was "like falling in love." The two were counterparts in the struggle for freedom.

    After Mandela's election, the Archbishop chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, investigating crimes of the apartheid era. He delivered the final report to Mandela in 1998.

    Tutu advocated for racial justice and LGBTQ rights globally. Tutu died from complications from prostate cancer, which he was first diagnosed with in 1997. When asked how he would like to be remembered, Tutu answered:

  • Desmond Tutu:

    He loved, he laughed, he cried, he was forgiven, he forgave.

  • Michael Hill:

    For more on the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I spoke with NewsHour Special Correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault. Thank you so much for joining us. I have to ask you this where would the end of apartheid be if it had not been for Desmond Tutu?

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Well, we may still be involved in it, but actually, I think that one of the things that Desmond Tutu, and I am so sorry to hear he has transitioned as the South Africans say they never used the term dead or death, but I think that so much changed as a result of his work. And yet, like in America, we go around in circles, sometimes trying to get a more perfect union. And so I think that at the time that Archbishop Tutu was very active, especially with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it was the time to set South Africa on a new path. And sometimes, as you would know, the paths have rubbish on them. But his principles were those that enabled those who cared about the things that he did to sweep away that rubbish in the past. So it never goes away. South Africa is having a rough time today as we are here in America, but there are people who have given us lessons to survive even the worst of times. And he was one of those.

  • Michael Hill:

    You know, he chaired this Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa on behalf of the president at the time, Nelson Mandela. And he wrote in one of his reports, Tutu did, not to judge the morality of people's actions, but to act as an incubation chamber for national healing, reconciliation and forgiveness. But that didn't sit well with a lot of South Africans, though.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Well, it didn't, but it didn't dissuade him from, you know, as a preacher's kid, a PK, which I am, I always understood what moved Archbishop Tutu. And it was his faith. And his faith taught him to have faith in people. And those could be people whom he wanted to help have support him, but others who he knew it was going to be a challenge to achieve. And so as we have here in America today, we have a younger generation that wants things to happen a lot faster, the equality that we've been promised in our constitution. And the same is true in South Africa. So you had people on all sides of the, shall we say, the freedom equation. But he understood all of that and he never criticized them. He always said he understood their impatience. And yet he continued on his path toward reconciliation because he thought that that was probably the most important thing that could happen in the country, reconciliation. And although not everybody bought into it, he did help prepare the country for one of the greatest presidents who ever lived, Nelson Mandela. And he also helped to ease the transition in so many ways.

  • Michael Hill:

    Charlayne, tell us, what was it like when you first met him in his younger days and you were in South Africa?

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    I think he was about six or seven years old at the time and had a very young spirit. In fact, when he was running the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we learned from him that he had prostate cancer. And he said that probably the best kind of healer is a wounded healer. And what surprised me more than anything was as challenging as the country was at the time and as serious as the position that he had to determine what South Africans could do going forward, he was always positive and he had a great sense of humor. I mean, you can find pictures of him just laughing. And that's what struck me often in the meetings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which I attended. Although it was all very serious, he would find humor in some things, and I think that helped in many ways to ease the tension. So he was a man of many different attitudes and positions, and I think all of that made him a very successful person in the efforts that he was trying to achieve. And we'll always remember him for what he contributed to a new South Africa.

  • Michael Hill:

    We've been speaking with Charlayne Hunter-Gault on the passing of Desmond Tutu. Charlayne, thank you.

  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

    Thank you for having me. It's a real pleasure to talk about such a great man.

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