South Africa mourns Desmond Tutu, but also other groups he defended

(CNN) — Cathedral bells tolled at noon in Cape Town on Monday as South Africa began a week of mourning the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

As his country marks Tutu’s life and death, people around the world are doing the same, including many of the groups he supported, from LGBTQ communities to Palestinians to climate justice advocates.

While Tutu was best known for helping to end decades of institutionalized segregation and racism in South Africa, and for spearheading the truth and reconciliation commission that followed, he was also famous for lending his voice to other injustices and oppression at the national level. world.

“Anywhere people’s humanity is undermined, anywhere people are in dust, there we will find our cause,” Tutu said in a 2013 interview.

Desmond Tutu, advocate for LGBTQ people

The respect Tutu had earned as South Africa’s moral compass made him one of Africa’s most important LGBTQ allies.

Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, a leading LGBTQ advocacy group, said Tutu’s “powerful alliance will never be forgotten.”

“We will be eternally grateful,” Madison tweeted.

Tutu was a vocal opponent of gender discrimination and a supporter of the LGBTQ community. He actively participated in the campaign United Nations Free and Equal and often compared the struggle of people singled out for their sexual orientation to apartheid.

In a 2007 interview with the BBC, said: “If God, as they say, is homophobic, I would not worship that God.” Years later he added: “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven… I mean I’d rather go to the other place,” referring to hell.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, center, during the launch of Free & Equal, a United Nations global public education campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality on July 26, 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa . (Credit: RODGER BOSCH/AFP via Getty Images)

Speaking about gender discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people, Tutu said: “I cannot remain silent when people are penalized for something they cannot do anything about”, adding: “I oppose such injustice with the same passion with which I opposed apartheid.

Tutu’s own daughter, Mpho Tutu van Furth, an Anglican minister, was forced to resign after marrying a woman in 2016.

She told The Guardian shortly after your marriage that the situation it was “painful”.

“My father campaigned for women’s ordination, so every time I stand at the altar I know this is part of his legacy,” said Tutu van Furth. “It is painful, a very strange pain, to resign, to take a step back in the exercise of my priestly ministry.”

Same-sex relationships and homosexuality are frowned upon in many of the more conservative corners of Africa. South Africa is the only country on the continent to have legalized same-sex marriage, and same-sex relationships are not legal in 32 of 54 African countries, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. Senegal and Ghana are debating bills aimed at the gay community.

The fight for Palestinian rights

Desmond Tutu was also a strong advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people, and politicians in Gaza and the West Bank mourned the late archbishop as an ally in their fight.

“Desmond Tutu will always be remembered as one of the bravest and most principled warriors for human rights and equality in South Africa and Palestine,” said Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestine Mission in the UK.

Former Palestinian Higher Education Minister Hanan Ashrawi tweeted that Tutu’s “humanity and compassion were matched only by his courage and principled commitment to our shared fight for justice and freedom.”

“Your support for Palestine was an embrace of love and empathy,” Ashrawi said.

Tutu tried to use his moral authority to get both Israelis and Palestinians to seek a path of non-violence. During the 2014 warAs Israel launched an operation to prevent the militant group Hamas from firing rockets into Israeli territory, Tutu accused Israel of using a “disproportionately brutal response” and called on both sides to abandon violence in favor of dialogue.

By the time a stable ceasefire was reached after several weeks, more than 2,200 Gazans had been killed in the fighting. About half of them civilians, including more than 550 children, according to a United Nations report. The UN said 71 Israelis were killed, 66 of whom were soldiers.

“We oppose the injustice of the illegal occupation of Palestine. We oppose the indiscriminate killing in Gaza. We oppose the indignity inflicted on Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks. We oppose the violence perpetrated by all parts. But we are not opposed to the Jews,” Tutu wrote in Haaretzone of the largest English-language newspapers in Israel, at the time.

“We know that when our leaders started talking to each other, the rationale behind the violence that had shaken our society dissipated and disappeared,” he said. “We also know the benefits that dialogue between our leaders finally brought us; when organizations labeled ‘terrorist’ were removed from the ban and their leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were released from imprisonment, banishment and exile.”

However, his unique point of view on the power of truth, absolution, and reconciliation sometimes led him into a pickle. His sermon on the importance of forgiveness after visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel in 1989 provoked the ire of Jewish activists, including fellow Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.

“For anyone in Jerusalem, at Yad Vashem, to talk about forgiveness would, in my opinion, be a disturbing insensitivity to Jewish victims and their survivors. I hope that is not Bishop Tutu’s intention,” Wiesel said at the time. .

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu, center, visits a house in the city of Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip on May 28, 2008. (Credit: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)

Over the years, Tutu has said that he opposed oppression and violence on both sides of the conflict. But his frequent comparisons of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with that of black South Africans and his support for boycotts of Israel provoked the ire of many Israeli politicians, especially those who were more aggressive on defense issues.

“Tutu, like many in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, had a natural affinity for the Palestinians and a worldview that they were similar,” Arthur Lenk, Israel’s former ambassador to South Africa, told the Jerusalem Post. “He (Tutu) was no friend of Israel, but that being said, he was a man of great achievement, heroism and bravery. And anyone who celebrates democracy knows that he is at the top of the list of people who should be honored even if didn’t see our problem the way we would have liked him to.

The fight for the climate and the environment

Tutu was a strong believer in the power of international boycotts, divestment policies, and sanctions. He saw the global drive to economically punish and isolate South Africa as a crucial factor in ending apartheid.

Although he retired from public service in 2010, Tutu advocates that the international community and individuals themselves consider such boycotts to stop the climate crisis in the last years of his life. He pressured former President Barack Obama to stop the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would have transported oil from Canada’s tar sands to the United States. In 2014, Tutu traveled to Canada to assess the project on his own and hear from supporters and opponents of it.

Canada’s former Environment and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna called Tutu an “incredible force, not only leading the fight against apartheid, but also fighting for racial equality, climate justice and LGBTQ+ rights.” .

Tutu wrote several articles in major newspapers around the world calling for action. He called on the international community to launch an “apartheid-style boycott to save the planet” in a 2014 op-ed in The Guardian. The young environmental activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that article to honor him after his death. Tutu called the climate crisis the “apartheid of our times” in the Financial Times in 2019.

“During the 25 years that climate change has been on the global agenda, global emissions have risen unchecked, while real-world impacts have taken hold in earnest,” Tutu said at a conference given by his foundation last year. past. “Time is running out. We are already experiencing loss of lives and livelihoods due to intensifying storms, freshwater shortages, the spread of disease, rising food prices and the creation of climate refugees” .

— CNN’s Tamara Qiblawi and Riuki Gakio contributed to this report.

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