South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Retire

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to apartheid in South Africa, said he will withdraw from public life after his 79th birthday on Oct. 7.

“The time has now come to slow down,” Tutu said in a statement distributed from Cape Town today. “Existing diary appointments will be honored, but no new appointments will be added to my schedule.”

As South Africa’s first black Anglican bishop, Tutu used his international profile to advocate sanctions against the all- white government, which relinquished power after elections in 1994. He retired as archbishop of Cape Town in 1996 to lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a body that aimed to expose the injustices of the past.

In 1997, Tutu learned he had prostate cancer and underwent surgery.

When the Truth Commission completed its work in 1998, Tutu took up a lectureship at Emory University in Atlanta, returning to South Africa in 2001, ostensibly to retire. Yet he continued to campaign for social justice and participated in a number of forums and organizations, including the United Nations Advisory Committee on the Prevention of Genocide.

He accused former South African President Thabo Mbeki of not doing enough to combat the spread of AIDS and remaining silent about human rights abuses by the government of President Robert Mugabe of neighboring Zimbabwe.

Tutu also charged the government with creating a small black elite and warned that the country was sitting on a “powder keg” that would explode unless the government did more to eradicate poverty. His comments were denounced by the ruling African National Congress, which said they “coincided exactly with the positions taken by the right wing.”

Tutu called on ANC leader Jacob Zuma, who was accused of taking 4.07 million rand ($438,000) in bribes, to face trial, saying the politician needed to be given the chance to clear his name. The case against Zuma was dropped on April 6 last year, just weeks before he was appointed South Africa’s president.

Tutu participated in South Africa’s campaign to host the soccer World Cup, appearing at a celebratory concert in Johannesburg on June 10 to welcome fans.

“My mission determined that I continue to work, and my schedule has grown increasingly punishing over the years,” Tutu said.

“Instead of growing old gracefully, at home with my family, reading and writing and praying and thinking, too much of my time has been spent at airports and in hotels.”

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