By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Senior National
Long before Nelson Mandela won his freedom from 27 years of imprisonment fighting apartheid in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu earned the moniker “the nation’s conscience.”
White and Black residents of the popular African nation lauded the bishop for his relentless fight to unite races and end the racist system of apartheid.
South Africa’s leading advocate for change and reconciliation under a Black majority rule and the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bishop Tutu, died in Cape Town on December 26 at the age of 90.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa first confirmed the bishop’s passing.
“He was a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead,” President Ramaphosa exclaimed.
A spokesperson for the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation said Bishop Tutu succumbed to cancer after a decades-long battle with the disease.
Bishop Tutu reportedly had been hospitalized several times in the years since his 1997 diagnosis but continued his work.
His demands for freedom and advocating that justice be accomplished in a nonviolent manner helped earn Bishop Tutu the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
Born on October 7, 1931, in Klerksdorp, South Africa, Bishop Tutu’s mother, Aletha, was a domestic worker, and his father, Zacharia, was a teacher.
Bishop Tutu was baptized a Methodist, but his family would later join the Anglican Church, according to his official biography.
When he was 12, his family moved to Johannesburg.
Bishop Tutu often spoke of Rev. Trevor Huddleston, a white preacher who opposed apartheid.
Rev. Huddleston earned the young Tutu’s admiration because of a simple gesture: Rev. Huddleston tipped his hat to Tutu’s mother.
Desmond Tutu studied at the Pretoria Bantu Normal College and earned a degree in teaching from the University of South Africa.
He taught for three years but resigned after South Africa enacted the Bantu Education Act, lowering Black students’ education standards.
He married Nomalizo Shenxane, and the couple remained together for more than 66 years until Bishop Tutu’s death.
They have four children, Trevor, and three daughters, Theresa, Naomi, and Mpho.
“Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a mentor, a friend, and a moral compass for me and so many others,” former U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement.
“A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere. He never lost his impish sense of humor and willingness to find humanity in his adversaries, and Michelle and I will miss him dearly.”
England’s Royal Family tweeted condolences from Queen Elizabeth.
Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali also tweeted out his sympathies.
“I join other world leaders in expressing my sadness at the passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who has been the embodiment of the struggle for liberation,” Prime Minister Ali wrote. “Ethiopia sends its condolences to the people and the government of South Africa.”
Officials at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta also released a statement of sadness.
“Our hearts go out to his family. Archbishop Tutu was a global human rights activist and a compassionate, bold, consistent voice on behalf of the ostracized and oppressed,” the King Center officials wrote. “May we carry his love forward.”
Other Noteworthy Losses in 2021
As the calendar turns to a new year and COVID remains as deadly today as the pandemic’s start nearly two years ago, the National Newspaper Publishers Association pauses to remember the icons who said goodbye in 2021.
From the stunning death of Supremes co-founder and Black Press friend Mary Wilson to the loss of DMX and Colin Powell, 2021 featured some of the saddest and most unexpected farewells.
“I was extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of a major member of the Motown family, Mary Wilson of the Supremes,” Berry Gordy, Motown Records’ founder, remarked.
“The Supremes were always known as the ‘sweethearts of Motown.’ Along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, Mary came to Motown in the early 1960s. After an unprecedented string of No. 1 hits, television, and nightclub bookings, they opened doors for themselves, the other Motown acts, and many, many others. … I was always proud of Mary. She was quite a star in her own right and over the years continued to work hard to boost the legacy of the Supremes. Mary Wilson was extremely special to me. She was a trailblazer, a diva, and will be deeply missed.”
Two months after Wilson’s death, hip-hop icon DMX died in New York at 50.
DMX, whose real name was Earl Simmons, banged out hits like “Party Up in Here,” and “X Gon’ Give It to Ya,” also starred in the groundbreaking movie, “Belly,” which featured the iconic scene where Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., saves his character’s life.
Dr. Chavis is the president and CEO of the NNPA.
Simmons also made his mark in films like “Exit Wounds,” “Cradle 2 the Grave,” and “Romeo Must Die.”
“Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end,” read a family statement. “He loved his family with all of his heart, and we cherish the times we spent with him. Earl’s music inspired countless fans across the world, and his iconic legacy will live on forever. We appreciate all of the love and support during this incredibly difficult time. Please respect our privacy as we grieve the loss of our brother, father, uncle, and the man the world knew as DMX.”
Music, entertainment, sports, and the business world lost heroes and icons in 2021. While we sincerely apologize if we missed anyone in this report, the following count among the deaths that made headlines.
• Actor Michael K. Williams
• Actor Melvin Van Peebles
• Producer Chucky Thompson
• Gen. Colin Powell
• Baseball Legend Hank Aaron
• Basketball Legend Elgin Baylor
• College Basketball Coaching Legend John Chaney
• Golf Legend Lee Elder
• Boxing Legend Marvelous Marvin Hagler
• Hip Hop Artist Greg “Shock G” Jacobs, leader for Digital Underground,
• Actor Yaphet Kotto,
• Hip Hop Star, Actor Biz Markie
• Comedian Paul Mooney
• Singer Lloyd Price
• Boxer Leon Spinks
• Singer Dennis Thomas, Kool & the Gang co-founder
• Actress Cicely Tyson
• Musician Bunny Wailer, founding member of The Wailers and collaborator of Bob Marley’s
• Actor Clarence Williams III
• Baseball Legend Jim “Mudcat” Grant
• Olympic Champion Dianne Durham
• Civil Rights Worker, Lawyer Vernon Jordan
• Writer Eloise Greenfield
• Professor and Opera Singer Carmen Balthrop
• Trailblazing Black feminist Bell Hooks