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World leaders mourn the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu

A woman sweeps outside the house where former Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu lived, in Soweto, South Africa, Sunday Dec. 26, 2021. Tutu, South Africa's Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist for racial justice and LGBT rights and retired Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town has died, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Sunday.
Shiraaz Mohamed
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AP
A woman sweeps outside the house where former Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu lived, in Soweto, South Africa, Sunday Dec. 26, 2021. Tutu, South Africa's Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist for racial justice and LGBT rights and retired Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town has died, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Sunday.

Leaders around the world are mourning the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the human rights crusader who died in Cape Town at the age of 90.

A Nobel Peace laureate, Tutu is widely hailed for playing a key role in dismantling apartheid in South Africa and chairing the nation's Truth and Reconciliation Committee. On Sunday, leaders around the world are remembering the archbishop for his pursuit of racial justice and equality, as well as his unforgettable sense of humor.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called Tutu "a patriot without equal."

"A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world," Ramaphosa said.

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden said they were "heartbroken" to hear that Tutu had died.

"His courage and moral clarity helped inspire our commitment to change American policy toward the repressive Apartheid regime in South Africa," the Bidens said in a statement released by the White House.

"Desmond Tutu followed his spiritual calling to create a better, freer, and more equal world. His legacy transcends borders and will echo throughout the ages."

The Elders, a global human rights groups that former South African President Nelson Mandela formed in 2007, released a statement mourning their emeritus member, who liked to be called "Arch."

"The Elders have lost a dear friend, whose infectious laugh and mischievous sense of humor delighted and charmed them all," the group said. "The world has lost an inspiration – but one whose achievements will never be forgotten, and whose commitment to peace, love and the fundamental equality of all human beings will endure to inspire future generations."

The Anglican Church of South Africa said that as people mourn the loss of Tutu, they should also celebrate his life.

The current archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, said in a video statement, "He wanted every human being on Earth to experience the freedom, the peace, and the joy that all of us would enjoy if we truly respected one another as people created in the image of God."

Makgoba said that funeral arrangements for Tutu would be made in partnership with the South African government and would abide by COVID-19 safe protocols.

Former President Barack Obama called Tutu a mentor, a friend and a moral compass.

"A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere. He never lost his impish sense of humor and willingness to find humanity in his adversaries, and Michelle and I will miss him dearly," Obama tweeted.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation also released a statement grieving the loss of Tutu. Its chief executive is Sello Hatang, who worked with both Tutu and Mandela.

"He was larger than life, and for so many in South Africa and around the world his life has been a blessing. His contributions to struggles against injustice, locally and globally, are matched only by the depth of his thinking about the making of liberatory futures for human societies," the organization said.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of Tutu, "He was a critical figure in the fight against apartheid and in the struggle to create a new South Africa - and will be remembered for his spiritual leadership and irrepressible good humor."

The Dalai Lama wrote a message to Tutu's daughter the Rev. Mpho Tutu van Furth mourning the loss of a "spiritual brother and good friend."

"Archbishop Desmond Tutu was entirely dedicated to serving his brothers and sisters for the greater common good. He was a true humanitarian and a committed advocate of human rights," he wrote.

"I am convinced the best tribute we can pay him and keep his spirit alive is to do as he did and constantly look to see how we too can be of help to others."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.