Born in 1931 in Transvaal, South Africa, Desmond Tutu was a bishop and educator known for his role in the anti-Apartheid movement.

Tutu hailed from a working-class background, and despite being accepted into medical school, was unable to afford tuition and worked as an English teacher. Eventually Tutu went on to study theology at King’s College London and became ordained as an Anglican priest in 1960.  

Tutu is often compared to another anti-Apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela, and for good reason. They were markedly similar individuals; both were Nobel Peace Prize recipients remembered for their support of the end of segregation in South Africa, and for their role in demanding the civil rights of black South Africans, who were historically persecuted by the minority white government. Where Tutu and Mandela differed, however, was in their approach to achieving justice. While Tutu favoured nonviolent means of resistance, Mandela was not against using armed resistance against Apartheid militants when he deemed necessary. 

Apartheid, a system of racist laws and segregations in South Africa, lasted until the end of the 20th century. The system hierarchically categorised individuals into groups which dictated the areas they could visit, the places they could live and the services they had access to. This rampant discrimination led to a wave of civil protest movements, including violent protests like the Soweto uprising, which resulted in up to seven hundred deaths.  

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” — Desmond Tutu

Tutu abhorred violence and denounced uprisings that took up armed forms of resistance, advocating for nonviolent forms of protest. Tutu also famously supported the use of sanctions and disinvestment. This belief led him to plead with the Danish government to no longer import South African coal in support of the anti-Apartheid movement, a request that was eventually fulfilled

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument,” he famously declared. 

His commitment to nonviolence was influenced heavily by his Christian perspective. Tutu’s Anglican background had a significant influence on his politics and worldview, and the values of forgiveness and reconciliation were two key pillars in Tutu’s philosophy of productive peacemaking. Tutu’s declaration that “only forgiveness enables us to restore trust and compassion to our relationships,” evokes an understanding of peace as achieved through reconciliation. “If peace is our goal,” he continued, “there can be no future without forgiveness.” 

After the abolition of Apartheid in 1994, Tutu continued to advocate for the rights of the oppressed. In 1995, Tutu was appointed Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a South African collective dedicated to the reparation of the post-Apartheid government. The Commission built legislation that addressed fundamental issues that policymakers had once overlooked including the mistreatment of black South Africans during the Apartheid era. Injustices including acts of torture, violence, threats and abuse were addressed in a public forum and redressed by a tribunal that sought to right the wrongs of the past by offering victims compensation for the crimes committed against them. 


When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate.” — Desmond Tutu

Tutu demonstrates the idea of Positive Peace in his advocacy of non-violence. Unlike negative peace which is simply the absence of violence, Positive Peace is comprised of the values and institutions that actively work to support peacebuilding measures. Tutu’s role in creating meaningful legislative changes with the Commission shows his commitment to upholding the values of Positive Peace.  

By advocating for a world where the rights of others are accepted and respected, and the government is well-functioning and non-discriminatory, Tutu successfully represents the possibility for a future where all are treated as equals. 

“When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate,” Tutu said. “When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognising the humanity in others.” 


Joshua Woo

Communications Associate

Vision of Humanity

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