“I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.”

—Desmond Tutu

Champions of Human Rights
Desmond Tutu (1931–2021)

Desmond Tutu is one of South Africa’s most well-known human rights activists, winning the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in resolving and ending apartheid. Born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, South Africa, he was first a teacher, and later studied theology, becoming the first black Anglican Archbishop of both Cape Town and Johannesburg. Through his lectures and writings as an outspoken critic of apartheid, he was known as the “voice” of voiceless black South Africans. After the students’ rebellion in Soweto escalated into riots, Tutu supported the economic boycott of his country, while constantly encouraging reconciliation between various factions associated with apartheid.

When South Africa’s first multiracial elections were held in 1994—electing Nelson Mandela as the nation’s first black president—Mandela appointed Tutu chairperson of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

In his human rights work, Tutu formulated his objective as “a democratic and just society without racial divisions,” and has set forth minimum demands for the accomplishment of this, including equal civil rights for all, a common system of education, and the cessation of forced deportation.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Tutu has been bestowed numerous awards, including the Pacem in Terris Award, the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award, the Lincoln Leadership Prize and the Gandhi Peace Prize.

During his lifetime, Desmond Tutu championed human rights and the equality of all people, both within South Africa and internationally.