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Home World Desmond Tutu, Whose Voice Helped Slay Apartheid, Dies at 90

Desmond Tutu, Whose Voice Helped Slay Apartheid, Dies at 90

His words seemed prophetic when, in 2016, an alliance of religious leaders in South Africa joined other critics in urging Mr. Zuma to quit. In early 2018, Mr. Zuma was ousted after a power struggle with his deputy, Mr. Ramaphosa, who took over the presidency in February of that year.

By then, Archbishop Tutu had largely stopped giving interviews because of failing health and rarely appeared in public. But a few months after Mr. Ramaphosa was sworn in as the new president with the promise of a “new dawn” for the nation, the archbishop welcomed him at his home.

“Know that we pray regularly for you and your colleagues that this must not be a false dawn,” Archbishop Tutu warned Mr. Ramaphosa.

At that time, support for the African National Congress had declined, even though it remained the country’s biggest political party. In elections in 2016, while still under the leadership of Mr. Zuma, the party’s share of the vote slipped to its lowest level since the end of apartheid. Mr. Ramaphosa struggled to reverse that trend, but earned some praise later for his robust handling of the coronavirus crisis.

For much of his life, Archbishop Tutu was a spellbinding preacher, his voice by turns sonorous and high-pitched. He often descended from the pulpit to embrace his parishioners. Occasionally he would break into a pixielike dance in the aisles, punctuating his message with the wit and the chuckling that became his hallmark, inviting his audience into a jubilant bond of fellowship. While assuring his parishioners of God’s love, he exhorted them to follow the path of nonviolence in their struggle.

Politics were inherent in his religious teachings. “We had the land, and they had the Bible,” he said in one of his parables. “Then they said, ‘Let us pray,’ and we closed our eyes. When we opened them again, they had the land and we had the Bible. Maybe we got the better end of the deal.”

His moral leadership, combined with his winning effervescence, made him something of a global celebrity. He was photographed at glittering social functions, appeared in documentaries and chatted with talk-show hosts. Even in late 2015, when his health seemed poor, he met with Prince Harry of Britain, who presented him with an honor on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II.

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