Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Quick Facts and Timeline

Desmond Tutu Facts and Timeline

South African Anglican cleric and 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutu, is one of the most prominent persons to ever hail from the African continent. His unflinching commitment in resisting the apartheid regime in South Africa etched him into the annals of history. Additionally, he is most famous for being the first black African to become Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town. Here is a quick look at the key facts and timeline of Desmond Tutu – an anti-racial segregation icon and human rights activist.

Quick Facts about Desmond Tutu

Birth Day and Place: October 7, 1931; Klerksdorp, Transvaal, Union of South Africa

Born: Desmond Mpilo Tutu

Mother: Aletta Tutu

Father: Zachariah Tutu

Spouse: Nomalizo Leah Tutu (since 1955)

Children: Trevor, Theresa, Naomi and Mpho

Education: Bantu Normal Teacher’s College, Pretoria; University of South Africa; St. Peter’s Theological College

Most Famous For: Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town; 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; Anti-Apartheid icon; Chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Nicknames: The Arch; Baba; and Boy (as a child)

Timeline of Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu Facts and Timeline

Birth and Early Childhood

October 7, 1931 – Desmond Mpilo Tutu is born to parents – Allen Dorothea Mathlare (Aletta Tutu) and Zachariah Zelilo Tutu. His mother, Allen, was a Motswana while his father was from Xhosa tribe.

1936 – Attends a Methodist primary school at Tshing. From there, he proceeded to the Swedish Boarding School in St Agnes Mission.

1945 – Tutu attended Johannesburg Bantu High School. He featured actively in the school’s rugby team.

1951 – He won a scholarship to study at Pretoria Bantu Normal College in 1951. After college, he secured his Transvaal Bantu Teachers Diploma.

Marriage and Early Teaching Career

Desmond Tutu’s Family

1953 – Tutu and his wife Nomalizo resign from the educational sector due to the Bantu Education Act that was enacted by the National Party of South Africa. The act was in every sense of the word apartheid. It encouraged further racial segregation in the educational sector.

1954 – He taught English at Madibane High School. Then, in 1955, he taught at Krugersdorp High School.

June 1955 – Tutu married Nomalizo Leah Shenxane at Krugersdorp. Even though he was an Anglican, Tutu had a Roman Catholic wedding.

April 1956 – Tutu and Nomalizo welcome their first child, Trevor.

1956 – He gained admission to St Peter’s Theological College at Rosettenville, Johannesburg. While there, he won a prize in an annual essay competition.

December, 1960 – Tutu was ordained as an Anglican priest at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The priest that ordained Tutu was Edward Paget. After that, he worked as an assistant curate in St Alban’s Parish. Two years later, he was posted to St Philip’s Church in Thokoza.

King’s College London, England, and Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral

1962 – After funds were raised by the Anglican Church, in partnership with the International Missionary Council’s Theological Educational Fund (TEF), Tutu was tapped to further his education at King’s College London, England. In addition to his usual curricular, Tutu studied Hebrew.

1965 to 1966 – He pursued a master’s degree. His dissertation was about Islam in West Africa.

1967 – He taught at the Federal Theological Seminary (Fedsem) in Eastern Cape. He was the first black African to do so. A few years later, he left Fedsem to take up a teaching position at the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS) in Roma, Lesotho.

1972 – He was appointed director of the Theological Educational Fund (TEF) in Africa. The position afforded him the opportunity to visit several African countries, assessing grants to institutions and students. He visited countries like Zaire (present day Democratic Republic of Congo), Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and host of other countries.

1973 – He championed black theology – a practical approach to dealing with real issues related to the life and death of the black man. He merged African-American theology with African theology.

August, 1975 – He was appointed dean of St Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg. By taking up the position, he became the first black African to hold the office. While in office, he campaigned for the ordination of women priest. He was a big advocate for gender equity and equality of opportunities.

Bishop of St Mary’s Cathedral

March, 1976 – Tutu gets elected as the Bishop of Lesotho, becoming Bishop of St Mary’s Cathedral.

May, 1976 – He penned a letter to then South African Prime Minister Voster, asking him to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa.

September 1977 – He attended the funeral of anti-apartheid activist and leader of the Black Consciousness Movement Steve Biko.  Biko died while he was held by the police.

Desmond Tutu eulogizing anti-apartheid hero, Steve Biko

Head of the South African Council of Churches (SACC)

March, 1978 – He became the Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), replacing John Thorne. Also in this position, Tutu became the first black African to hold the office.

1980 – He spearheaded the SACC civil disobedience campaigns against apartheid.

May, 1980 – He was arrested and fined, along with Joe Wing, for leading a march against the illegal arrest of John Thorne, a former General-Secretary of the SACC.

1981 – He was appointed rector of St Augustine’s Church in Soweto.

August, 1983 – The United Democratic Front (UDF) selected Desmond Tutu as a patron.

October, 1984 – He received an invitation to address the United Nations Security Council.

1984 – Visited U.S. President Ronald Reagan at the White House.

Nobel Peace Prize

1984 – He won the Nobel Peace Prize, earning himself prize money of $192,000. He donated the money to family members, SACC staff, and some educational charities.

1984 – Wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his amazing work to bring down the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. This made him the second South African to ever win the award, behind Chief Albert Lutuli.

February, 1985 – He became the Bishop of Johannesburg, becoming the sixth person to occupy the position. He was the first black African to hold the office.

1985 – He played a crucial role in mediating between angry black South Africans and the government. The government had imposed state of emergency in most parts of the country, enraging the blacks further. Amidst all of that he always tried to use nonviolent means to get the message across. He called for nation-wide strikes; he marched; and he called for fasting and praying.

February, 1986 – He obtained two-thirds of the vote to become the Archbishop of Cape Town. Again, he was the first black African to get elected to the office. His enthronement ceremony, which was at the Cathedral of St George the Martyr, was graced by more than 1,300 people.

1986 – Tutu becomes the Archbishop of Cape Town. As archbishop, he was the head of the church in five southern African countries – South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho and Namibia.

February 1988 – He mediated the conflict between black protesters and authorities. Kind courtesy to his efforts, as well as that of Boesak and Stephen Naidoo’s, the issue was prevented from escalating further.

Multi-party democracy and Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Desmond Tutu (left) and Nelson Mandela

Early 1990s – He tried to resolve the increased tensions and clashes between ANC and Inkatha.

1994 – He attended Nelson Mandela’s presidential inauguration ceremony. Mandela made history by becoming the first black African to become the president of the South Africa.

September 1995 – Tutu became one of the seventeen commissioners on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). He was picked by Mandela to chair the commission. The final report was presented to Nelson Mandela in October 1998.

1995 – He was appointed the chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. He was tapped by then-president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.


1996 – Tutu brings his time as archbishop of Cape Town to an end. He is however given a new title, Archbishop emeritus.

June, 1996 – He retired from his position as archbishop of Cape Town. His successor was Ndugane.

1997 – News of his diagnosis with prostate cancer emerges. Tutu undergoes treatment in the United States.

1998 – Sets up the Desmond Tutu Peace Trust

1998 to 2000 – He gets appointed as visiting professorship at Emory University.

1998 – 2000 – Tutu becomes a visiting professor of theology at the Atlanta university, Emory University.

2002 – Appointed visiting professor at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge

March, 2003 – After about 8 years, he submits the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to then-South African president, Thabo Mbeki.

July, 2007 – Along with Nelson Mandela, he forms The Elders – a group of distinguished and old statesmen from around the globe. The goal of the group is to deliberate on issues of global significance. The group included the likes of Kofi Annan (Former U.N. Secretary General), Jimmy Carter (Former President of the United States), Ela Bhatt , and Mary Robinson.

Read More: 10 Greatest African Leaders of All Time

Post Retirement

Archbishop Desmond Tutu receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former U.S. President Barack Obama

September, 2007— Along with other members of the Elders, Tutu heads to Darfur, Sudan in search for long-lasting peace in the country.

July, 2009 – US President Barack Obama awards Tutu with the 2009 US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

October, 2011 – In its bid to not meet incur ire of China, South African government refuses to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan Buddhist leader intended to pay Tutu a visit during his birthday celebrations.

October, 2011 – “Tutu: The Authorised Portrait” gets published. It was published on Tutu’s birthday, 80th birthday. The book was co-written by Mpho – Tutu’s daughter – and Allister Sparks. Book delves into the lives and stories of people like the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Bono, and among others.

September, 2012 – Tutu calls for former U.S. President George W. Bush and Ex British Prime Minister Tony Blair to be questioned for their involvement in the Iraq War.

October, 2012 – The Mo Ibrahim Foundation presents to Tutu a one million-dollar award for all his efforts (“speaking truth to power”) in fighting for racial equality and civil rights.

Desmond Tutu’s Quote

December, 2012 – “Desmond and the Very Mean Word” – a children’s book – is published on December 3, 2012.

2013 – The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation is established in Cape Town.

April, 2013 – Tutu receives the 2013 Templeton Prize. The prize money was worth $1.7 million .

September, 2016 – Admitted to hospital to undergo surgery.

2016 – A recurring infection forces Tutu to be admitted to a South African hospital.

October 6, 2016 – Pens down an op-ed in The Washington Post. In the op-ed, Tutu voices his unflinching support to civil rights and racial equality. He also advocates that people should be given the right to die with dignity.

December, 2019 – Tutu receives treatment for some health infections. He was admitted on December 4, 2019 and was released five days later.


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1 Response

  1. SOKYES says:

    Great leaders

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