Desmond Tutu: 10 famous quotes from South Africa’s Archbishop

Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks during a memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at Westminster Abbey in London on 3 March 2014

South Africa and the world is mourning the passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who died on 26 December, aged 90.

Aside from being a member of the clergy, Tutu was a key figure during the anti-apartheid movement, an advocate for human rights and a "voice of reason and compassion against poverty, racism, xenophobia and corruption, and for human development".

Not afraid of ruffling feathers, Tutu was an uncomfortable opponent, even criticising Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress at times and reprimanding Zimbabwe's former dictator Robert Mugabe.

Desmond Tutu captured hearts and minds through his infectious smile and quotes. Pic: AP

The former teacher besotted the hearts and minds of the public with his infectious smile and jovial personality, but more than that, he was an eloquent public speaker, with his many quotes carrying meaning today.

10 quotes from Desmond Tutu

  • Tutu was quoted by Robert McAfee Brown in his 1984 book, Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes, saying: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. 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."
  • During his address at the Nelson Mandela Foundation on 23 November 2004, Tutu said: "My father always used to say, 'Don't raise your voice. Improve your argument.' Good sense does not always lie with the loudest shouters, nor can we say that a large, unruly crowd is always the best arbiter of what is right."
  • Tutu often referenced religion, and once said: "We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low."
The 14th Dalai Lama greets Tutu in Vancouver, British Columbia, on 18 April, 2004
  • On 19 October 1984, Tutu was quoted saying: "Be nice to whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity."
  • Another quote used by Tutu, often attributed to Jomo Kenyatta, read: "When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible, and they had the land."
Tutu addressed the Nelson Mandela Freedom Rally in Hyde Park, London on 17 July, 1988
  • Tutu published several books during his life and in God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, he wrote: "When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognising the humanity in others."
  • In the same book, he wrote: "It is through weakness and vulnerability that most of us learn empathy and compassion and discover our soul."
  • In another book, No Future Without Forgiveness, Tutu wrote: "A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are."
  • In The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, which Tutu co-wrote with the 14th Dalai Lama, he spoke about how generosity is the best way to become joyful, using a metaphor for the Dead Sea in the Middle East:

"The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives freshwater, but it has no outlet, so it doesn't pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that's why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give. In the end, generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful," the quote read.

  • During an interview with ITV shortly after his retirement, Tutu reflected on his career and time spent on the liberation movement in South Africa. He said: "Enemies are always friends waiting to be made."

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