‘Moral giant’: How the world reacted to Desmond Tutu’s death

The death of South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a veteran of the struggle against apartheid and Nobel Peace Prize winner, has seen condolences pour in from leaders around the world.

Tutu died on Sunday aged 90.

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday announced the death of 90-year-old Tutu, saying his loss was “another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa.”

This is how the world reacted to the news of his death:

South Africa

“Desmond Tutu was a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead,” Ramaphosa said.

John Steenhuisen, leader of the South African opposition party Democratic Alliance, said “a true South African giant has left us today, but his spirit will live on in the everyday kindness we South Africans show each other, and in our continued effort to build a united, successful, non-racial South Africa for all … When we lost our way, he was the moral compass that brought us back.”


Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said Tutu’s passing was “a big blow not only to the Republic of South Africa, where he leaves behind huge footprints as an anti-apartheid hero, but to the entire African continent where he is deeply respected and celebrated as a peacemaker”.

“Archbishop Tutu inspired a generation of African leaders who embraced his non-violent approaches in the liberation struggle,” he said.

Nelson Mandela Foundation

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, dedicated to the South African anti-apartheid political leader and an ally of Tutu, praised the archbishop’s legacy.

“His contributions to struggles against injustice, locally and globally, are matched only by the depth of his thinking about the making of liberatory futures for human societies. He was an extraordinary human being. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd,” it said.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International South Africa Executive Director Shenilla Mohamed in a statement said Tutu’s commitment to rights and equality for everyone |served as a much needed moral compass during the turbulent apartheid era”.

“Even after South Africa obtained freedom in 1994, the Archbishop continued to be an outspoken, passionate human rights activist,” she added.

“He was never afraid to call out human rights violators no matter who they were and his legacy must be honoured by continuing his work to ensure equality for all.”

Bernice King

The daughter of Martin Luther King, the American Baptist minister and activist who campaigned for the rights of the Black community, also shared her sorrow.

“I’m saddened to learn of the death of global sage, human rights leader, and powerful pilgrim on earth … we are better because he was here,” Bernice King said.

United States

US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden said they were “heartbroken” to learn of Tutu’s death, calling him a “true servant of God and of the people”.

“His courage and moral clarity helped inspire our commitment to change American policy toward the repressive Apartheid regime in South Africa,” they said.

Dalai Lama

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama called Tutu a “true humanitarian”. In a letter to Tutu’s daughter Mpho Tutu, the Dalai Lama said they had enjoyed an enduring friendship, fuelled by their common desire for reconciliation.

“We have lost a great man, who lived a truly meaningful life. He was devoted to the service of others, especially those who are least fortunate. I am convinced the best tribute we can pay him and keep his spirit alive is to do as he did and constantly look to see how we too can be of help to others,” the Dalai Lama wrote.


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Tutu a “voice for the oppressed” adding the 90-year-old was a “tireless advocate for human rights”.

“Sending my deepest condolences to his loved ones, the people of South Africa, and everyone mourning this incredible loss,” he tweeted.

United Kingdom

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “deeply saddened” by Tutu’s death, calling him a “critical figure” in defeating apartheid and building a new South Africa.

“He was a critical figure in the fight against apartheid and in the struggle to create a new South Africa – and will be remembered for his spiritual leadership and irrepressible good humour,” Johnson tweeted.


Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said Tutu was “a great little man who showed the power of reconciliation and forgiveness”.

“Tutu’s point was that injustice and abuse must not be forgotten, but that at the same time it must not be avenged if a society was to move on,” Stoere said.


Wasel Abu Yousef, member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, remembered Tutu as “one of the biggest supporters of the Palestinian cause”.

“He had always advocated the rights of the Palestinians to gain their freedom and rejected Israeli occupation and Apartheid,” Abu Yousef said.

Mohammed Shtayyeh, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority said Tutu’s death was “a loss for justice, truth and peace in the world. … He loved Palestine and Palestine loved him”.

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