The beloved Archbishop Desmond Tutu celebrates his 89th birthday today. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate and anti-apartheid activist has dedicated his life to making South Africa a better place for all, and we look back on his incredible journey.

Tutu was born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal. He was a high school teacher for three years before he began studying theology. He became an ordained priest in 1960, and spent the next few years in England working on his Masters in Theology.

In 1975, he became the first ever black person to be appointed as Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg. He was also Bishop of Lesotho, and in 1978 became the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches. Tutu acted as Bishop of Cape Town from 1986-1996, becoming the first black person to lead the Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa.

In 1984 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his untiring effort in calling for an end to white minority rule in South Africa. He became the second black South African to be listed under Nobel Laureates after Albert Luthuli.

He retired from the Church in 1996 to focus solely on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and was later named Archbishop Emeritus. On his last address as the Archbishop of the Province of Southern Africa, he was awarded with The Order for Meritorious Service (Gold) for his outstanding service to the country.

While bestowing the award, then President Nelson Mandela said: “He is renowned for selfless commitment to the poor, the oppressed and downtrodden. With his colleagues he remained an effective voice of the people of South Africa when so many of their leaders were imprisoned, exiled, banned and restricted.”

Since Apartheid’s fall, the Arch Emeritus Tutu has campaigned for gay rights and spoken out on a wide range of subjects, among them the Israel-Palestine conflict and his opposition to the Iraq War.

His historic accomplishments and his continuing efforts to promote peace in the world were formally recognised by the United States in 2009, when President Barack Obama named him to receive the nation’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He now lives in Cape Town with his wife Leah, and together they run the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.

Many have taken to social media to celebrate this endearing icon.

Picture: Facebook / Desmond Tutu

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