The indefatigable South African fighter for human rights died today at the age of 90.
His achievements are well known and the many, many obituaries and articles that will be written in the next few days will review them. What I liked best about him was that he used his eminence to speak out boldly, not caring about taking on sacred cows or tribal allegiances. He criticized the ANC after they took power, for which they retaliated by initially not inviting him to nelson Mandela’s funeral. He was one of the earliest major figures to label Israel as an apartheid state. That carried immense weight since who would know better than he what apartheid looked like? That outspokenness did not endear him to the apologists for Israel and it is suggestive that the Guardian article linked to above or the obituary does not even mention that particular stance of his, highly impactful though it was.
On a personal note, my daughter and son-in-law visited South Africa for a college friend’s wedding at which Tutu was to officiate. At an informal lunch, they met him. He was wearing a Morehouse College t-shirt and they said that he was playful and mischievous, joking around. I have a photograph of just the three of them and you can see the wide grin and the twinkle in his eyes. He was clearly someone who was serious about his work but did not take himself too seriously. He is the kind of person that one would enjoy just hanging out with.
Tutu clearly was a religious person, the kind who believes that his faith requires him to fight for justice for all. That is the best kind of religion.