Archbishop Desmond Tutu: South Africa anti-apartheid hero dies aged 90

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a social activist and Nobel Peace prize laureate who helped end apartheid in South Africa, has died aged 90.

Tutu was a giant of the struggle against apartheid "who helped bequeath "a liberated South Africa," South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said in his tribute message.

“From the pavements of resistance in South Africa to the pulpits of the world’s great cathedrals and places of worship, and the prestigious setting of the Nobel peace prize ceremony, the Arch distinguished himself as a non-sectarian, inclusive champion of universal human rights," Ramaphosa added.

Tutu was one of the country's best known and respected figures at home and abroad.

A contemporary of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, he played a key role in driving forces behind the movement to end the policy of racial segregation and discrimination enforced by the white minority government against the black majority in South Africa from 1948 until 1991.

Despite his popularity, 'The Arch', as he was affectionately known, was not a man who was loved by all. He was very critical of the African National Congress (ANC) government in the post-apartheid era, when, at times, he felt it was misrepresenting South Africa - even warning in 2011 that he would pray for its downfall over a cancelled visit by the Dalai Lama.

Tutu always kept his distance from the African National Congress (ANC).He refused to back its armed struggle and support unconditionally leaders such as Nelson Mandela.However, he shared Mandela’s vision of a multiracial society in which all communities lived together without rancour or discrimination and is credited with coining the phrase “rainbow nation” to describe this vision.

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Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the late 1990s and in recent years was hospitalised on several occasions because of infections associated with his treatment. He died peacefully in the early hours of Sunday morning, according to his relatives.

The Queen said Tutu “tirelessly championed human rights in South Africa and across the world” while the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, described him as a “prophet and priest, a man of words and action – one who embodied the hope and joy that were the foundations of his life”.

The former US president Barack Obama said Tutu was as “a mentor, a friend and a moral compass for me and so many others”.

Tutu was instantly recognisable, with his purple clerical robes, cheery demeanour and almost constant smile.

He was not afraid to show his emotions in public, including memorably laughing and dancing at the opening ceremony of the football World Cup in South Africa in 2010.

Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, a farming town 100 miles (160km) south-west of Johannesburg. The sickly son of a headteacher and a domestic servant, he trained first as a teacher before becoming an Anglican priest.

As a cleric, he travelled widely, gaining an MA in theology from King’s College London. Though he only emerged as a key figure in the liberation struggle in the mid-1970s.

The Archbishop was ordained as a priest in 1960. He then went on to serve as bishop of Lesotho from 1976-78, assistant bishop of Johannesburg and rector of a parish in Soweto. He became Bishop of Johannesburg in 1985, and was appointed the first black Archbishop of Cape Town the following year. He used his high-profile role to speak out against oppression of black people in his home country, always saying his motives were religious and not political.

A charismatic and highly articulate speaker, Tutu won the Nobel peace prize in 1984.

In the late 1990s, Tutu, suffering from prostate cancer, began to spend more time with his wife of 60 years, four children, and numerous grandchildren.

A seven-day mourning period is planned in Cape Town before his burial, including a two-day lying in state, an ecumenical service and an Anglican requiem mass at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, according to church officials.