Desmond Mpilo Tutu, fondly known as the "Arch”, is one of South Africa’s most celebrated figures. Besides winning the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize (and being nominated in 1981, 1982 and 1983), Archbishop Tutu was at the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement and a fundamental figure in liberating SA.  

Alongside the wisdom and unwavering compassion that his life and work display, he’s also known and loved for his humour, cheeky smile and infectious laugh.

Here are 5 lessons from the Arch that can be transformative to anybody:  

  1. “Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

During the struggle, while many political activists were jailed in SA, Tutu and others continued to travel abroad to speak out against the injustices of apartheid. He planted the seeds that soon made the anti-apartheid movement an international cause. “You could go almost anywhere in the world and you would be sure to find an anti-apartheid group there,” Tutu said in his documentary Children of the Light.

  1. “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

Throughout his life, Tutu has highlighted that Ubuntu speaks to the very essence of being human. “We belong in a bundle of life and we say, ‘A person is a person through other persons’,” he wrote in No Future Without Forgiveness.

  1. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Tutu explains this in simple terms in Children of the Light: If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

Tutu’s activism rose from his believe in the “God-given right of all people to be free from oppression” and he wasn’t going to sit on the fence about it. “We are not struggling to oppress somebody else, we are struggling to free everybody,” Tutu preached.

  1. “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”  

When asked if he’s optimistic, Tutu said in an interview with Time, “I'm not optimistic, no. I'm quite different. I'm hopeful. I am a prisoner of hope.” It was this hopefulness that carried him through almost 20 years of fighting against the apartheid state. Lavinia Crawford-Browne, Tutu’s former personal assistant of more than 20 years, said that hope is a character trait that all South Africans can adopt from Tutu: “No situation, however desperate, is without some point of light we can reach towards that will sustain us.”

  1. “If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends, you talk to your enemies.”

From writing a strongly worded letter to PW Botha to sitting across from Ronald Reagan in the White House asking for economic sanctions, the Arch never hesitated to confront his enemies for the sake of peace. Although he faced criticism from all sides throughout it all, he preached peace and forgiveness, setting him on a path to chairmanship of the Truth and Reconciliation commission.

Watch Children of the Light on Showmax this month to see the life and legacy of Desmond Tutu.

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