Tributes flow for Desmond Tutu

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  • Desmond Tutu
    Desmond Tutu
    South African churchman, politician, archbishop, Nobel Prize winner (1931–2021)
  • Cyril Ramaphosa
    5th President of South Africa

South Africa's anti-apartheid hero Archbishop Desmond Tutu was hailed as a "champion of universal human rights" and "moral compass" in tributes from world leaders and celebrities following his death on Sunday, aged 90.

"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," President Cyril Ramaphosa said in statement.

Tutu fought consistently for justice for South Africa's black population under apartheid, and spoke for peace and reconciliation after the end of the white supremacist regime in the nineties.

The Nobel Prize-winner "distinguished himself as a non-sectarian, inclusive champion of universal human rights," Ramaphosa said.

Former US president Barack Obama described Tutu as a "mentor, a friend, and a moral compass," noting that he was "grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere."

The Nelson Mandela foundation of South Africa's first black president said "he was larger than life, and for so many in South Africa and around the world his life has been a blessing."

Known by his nickname the Arch, Tutu was a constant figure at key points in South African history.

The Mandela foundation pointed out that "it was Tutu who held aloft [Mandela]'s hand on the balcony of Cape Town's City Hall on 9 May, 1994, and presented him to the assembled throngs as the country's new "out of the box" president."

He was later appointed by Mandela as the head of the landmark Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Anglican archbishop of Cape Town was "one of the great spirits and moral giants of our age," the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation said.

According to the foundation, Tutu spent the closing years of his life "increasingly devoted to prayer and contemplation, in the Milnerton home he and his wife shared."

In Britain, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, called Tutu "a prophet and priest, a man of words and action - one who embodied the hope and joy that were the foundations of his life.," in a tweet.

European Parliament President David Sassoli called Tutu an inspiration and a giant in the fight against apartheid, comments echoed by French President Emmanuel Macron.

European Council President Charles Michel called Tutu "a man who who gave his life to freedom with a deep commitment to human dignity," in a tweet.

Pope Francis said he was saddened to hear of Tutu's death and paid tribute to his work to promote racial equality and reconciliation, in a telegram.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tutu would be remembered for his leadership and humour.

The Queen said "Archbishop Tutu's loss will be felt by the people of South Africa, and by so many people in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and across the Commonwealth, where he was held in such high affection and esteem," in a message of condolence, according to PA news agency.

Irish President Michael D Higgins hailed the "extraordinary legacy" left by Tutu, saying his death would be felt in Ireland by those who campaigned against the regime in apartheid South Africa.

Meanwhile Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson reflected on his friendship, recalling a moment between them.

He wrote: "Arch was one of the most positive, funny, life-affirming people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He had no airs and graces, and always made everyone laugh. 'I don't know why, but some people accuse me of name-dropping,' he told me once. 'I just happened to have lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace the other day and she said, 'Arch, you are SUCH a name-dropper!'."

Celebrities also paid tribute to his life. Singer Boy George described him as a "beautiful soul" who "gave me faith that some humans do have a strong love frequency."

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