Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu: The uncanny friendship of South Africa’s anti-apartheid icons

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu, a close ally of Nelson Mandela in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, has died at the age of 90.

His role as a “moral compass” and “his remarkable warmth and humour” were recognised by world leaders. 

Tutu, along with the late Nelson Mandela, was one of the most powerful opponents of apartheid, the previous system of white minority rule.

In the post-apartheid era, the Anglican cleric also served as the chairman of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and was widely regarded as the country’s conscience. 

Both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu were founder members of The Elders, an international group of inspirational leaders who have worked to promote human rights in countries all over the world. 

Also read | Desmond Tutu was a friend of India: Here are some lesser known facts

Nobel Peace Prizes

Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his nonviolent struggle against apartheid.

In 1993, Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end apartheid peacefully and to establish the groundwork for a new democratic South Africa.

Fought for Mandela 

Tutu used his senior position in the Anglican Church and the acclaim the Nobel Peace Prize brought to spread his anti-apartheid message internationally and elevate the experiences and lives of Black South Africans while other leaders, such as Mandela, were imprisoned. 

Mandela’s first public speech

Tutu brought Mandela onto a balcony at Cape Town City Hall after his release from jail after 27 years, where he gave his first public speech.

Tutu compared voting in the first democratic election in the country, in 1994, as “falling in love.”

Tutu was present when Mandela was sworn in as the country’s first Black president. 

“Like falling in love”

“Like falling in love” is how Archbishop Desmond Tutu described voting in South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994, a remark that captured both his puckish humour and his profound emotions after decades fighting apartheid.

Watch | South Africa begins week of mourning for Desmond Tutu, funeral set for January 1

Open criticism of Mandela

While Tutu preached against apartheid’s brutality, he was also harshly critical of Black political elites.

He even openly chastised his ally, Nelson Mandela, for what he described as the African National Congress’s “gravy train mindset.”

Tutu would later chastise Mandela for having an open romance with Graca Machel, whom Mandela would later marry.

In 2013, Tutu abandoned his support for Mandela’s party and called South Africa “the world’s most unequal society.” 

When Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013, Archbishop Emeritus Tutu said: “This is a man who cared.”

(With inputs from agencies)

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