Desmond Tutu Quotes

  • 2012 : Nuclear weapons are an obscenity.  They are the very antithesis of humanity, of goodness in this world.  What security do they help establish?  What kind of world community are we actually seeking to build when nations possess and threaten to use arms that can wipe all of humankind off the globe in an instant?"

  • 16 Mar 2007 : "We Africans should hang our heads in shame. How can what is happening in Zimbabwe elicit hardly a word of concern let alone condemnation from us leaders of Africa? After the horrible things done to hapless people in Harare, has come the recent crackdown on members of the opposition ... what more has to happen before we who are leaders, religious and political, of our mother Africa are moved to cry out 'Enough is enough?"

  • 28 Nov 2006. On whether PW Botha is now in heaven or in hell: "God is the only one who decides. I hope his soul rests in peace." On whether PW Botha had received adequate recognition for his role as a reformer: "I think we shouldn't be dismissive of anybody. I always reckon that each one of us has the capacity to become a saint, anyone and everyone. I'm willing to acknowledge whatever initiatives he may have taken. But I think that he will be remembered mostly for his ... he was granite-like, you know. And the finger-wagging. Those are the things people are going to remember him for."

  • 6 Jan 2010. Desmond Tutu was widely featured in the satirical show set up by cartoonist Zapiro, and financed by Kulula. Many of the skits are shown with the puppets on Kulula Airlines flights (well, at least, replicas of them). Often he was presented together with his friend, Nelson Mandela.

  • November 2006. "I am so thankful for Harry Wiggett ...
    He inspires us with his insights.
    Not least, he so often recalls us to
    the silence from which all action stems."
    — ARCHBISHOP EMERITUS DESMOND TUTU (on the cover of "Harry Wiggett's collected Poem 1970 - 2006")

  • November 2006. "The reprisal against the suicide bomber does not bring peace. There is a suicide bomber, a reprisal and then a counter-reprisal. And it just goes on and on."

Desmond Tutu
October 2006

"People who call pacifists weak, that's not the case. Actually you go into confrontation. You confront violent people without weapons and your confrontation draws out their violence as it did in Birmingham with the dogs as it did in South Africa with the dogs. And that worked beautifully in Capetown in those few months. It was called the Defiance Campaign. The police violence, which was normally confined to black townships, was exported into the city. There was a particular evening, in which the Anglican Cathedral went to a judge to seek an order to stop the police from beating people up indiscriminately on the streets. Well, the police lawyer had considerable difficulty persuading the judge not to grant the order when the judges own clerk had been beaten up on the way to court to hear the case that evening."

Desmond Tutu
October 2006

"It was fairly straightforward that one of the things we had to do was to seek to establish a moral position. The second was maintaining the morale of our people. Telling our people 'your cause is a just cause.' This is, in fact, a moral universe. We're going to win."

Desmond Tutu
October 2006

What's the best thing about life at 75?
Tutu: "Looking back and now saying, 'Hey, we are free!' And realizing it is possible for good to overcome evil and to know that we can do it together."

In 1998, you told the Archbishop of Canterbury that you were ashamed to be Anglican when the church failed to liberalize its attitudes toward gay clergy. Do you still feel that way?
Tutu: "Yes. For me, there doesn't seem to be a difference at all with how I felt when people were being clobbered for something about which they could do nothing — their race. I can't believe that the Jesus Christ I worship would be on the side of those who persecute an already persecuted minority. That we should be tearing ourselves apart on this issue of human sexuality when the world faces such devastating problems as poverty, AIDS and conflict seems as if we are fiddling whilst our Rome is burning."

How close is South Africa to realizing your dream of uniting as a "rainbow people of God"?
Tutu: "Reconciliation is a long process. We don't have the kind of race clashes that we thought would happen. What we have is xenophobia, and it's very distressing. But maybe you ought to be lenient with us. We've been free for just 12 years."

You and Nelson Mandela have quibbled over fashion in the past. For the record, who's the better dresser?
Tutu: "Modesty prevents me from saying what I really think. But... his sartorial taste is the pits! [Laughs] He's such a lovely guy, but he was nasty to me when I publicly commented on it. He said the critique was pretty amusing coming from a man who wears a dress! "

Desmond Tutu interviewed by Time magazine.

Desmond Tutu
October 2006

"I am always intrigued because if you will notice, Zapiro always draws my nose peeping into my mouth. A very big thank you to the Trust and University. I am deeply touched and lack words to express my appreciation" - Desmond Tutu on receiving a Zapiro cartoon as a present for his 75th birthday.

Desmond Tutu
12 Jun 2004

"I often accompanied my father. I really liked riding with him on his bicycle on Saturdays. He was very fond of fishing. I don't think I liked fishing. I mean, you had to sit quietly and still, but I enjoyed the ride. And it was fun, it was fun. I mean, as I say, you didn't go around lugging a deep sense of resentment. We knew, yes, we were deprived. It wasn't the same thing for white kids, but it was as full a life as you could make it. I mean, we made toys for ourselves with wires, making cars, and you really were exploding with joy!"

Desmond Tutu
12 Jun 2004

"I wanted to become a doctor, a physician, and I was admitted to medical school, but my family did not have the money for fees. So I ended up becoming a teacher. I stopped being a teacher when the South African Government introduced a deliberately inferior education for blacks called Bantu education, and I felt I wasn't ready to collaborate with this apology for an educational system. Our children, the 1976 kids who revolted against apartheid in Soweto, called it "gutter education," and it was gutter education. I left teaching. Of course, I didn't have too many option, and mercifully, the Bishop of Johannesburg at that time accepted me for training for the priesthood. So I came to the priesthood, as it were, by default."

Early 2003

"To travel only blocks in his own homeland, a grandfather waits on the whim of a teenage soldier. More than an emergency is needed to get to a hospital; less than a crime earns a trip to jail. The lucky ones have a permit to leave their squalor to work in Israel's cities, but their luck runs out when security closes all checkpoints, paralysing an entire people. The indignities, dependence and anger are all too familiar." Desmond Tutu (as reported by


"People are scared in this country [the US], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful - very powerful." Desmond Tutu (


"Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language... It is to say, 'My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours.'" Desmond Tutu, in his book No Future Without Forgiveness.

8 June 1996

"There are different kinds of justice. Retributive justice is largely Western. The African understanding is far more restorative - not so much to punish as to redress or restore a balance that has been knocked askew." from "Recovering from Apartheid", in The New Yorker.


Desmond Tutu retires as Archbishop of Cape Town.


Desmond Tutu is appointed chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation commission.


“Your president is the pits as far as blacks are concerned. I think the West, for my part, can go to hell.” - Desmond Tutu, after Ronald Reagan on July 22, 1986, called proposed sanctions against South Africa a “historic act of folly.”


Desmond Tutu is ordained the first black South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

Desmond Tutu
8 June 1986

"We who advocate peace are becoming an irrelevance when we speak peace. The government speaks rubber bullets, live bullets, tear gas, police dogs, detention, and death" Sunday Times Magazine UK

Desmond Tutu
9 January 1985

"I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of human rights"
Today, NBC

Desmond Tutu
3 January 1985

"For goodness sake, will they hear, will white people hear what we are trying to say? Please, all we are asking you to do is recognise that we are humans too."
New York Times.

Desmond Tutu
November 1984

"Freedom and liberty lose out by default because good people are not vigilant"
from Hope and Suffering: Sermons and Speeches.


Desmond Tutu is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his endeavours for a non-violent end to apartheid.

Desmond Tutu

"History, like beauty, depends largely on the beholder, so when you read that, for example, David Livingstone discovered the Victoria Falls, you might be forgiven for thinking that there was nobody around the Falls until Livingstone arrived on the scene." From Desmond Tutu's speech "Fortieth Anniversary of the Republic?"

Desmond Tutu

“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."

Desmond Tutu

“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.”

Desmond Tutu

“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."


Desmond Tutu is ordained as a minister in the Anglican Church.

7 Oct 1931

Desmond Mpilo Tutu is born in Klerksdorp, in the then Transvaal province of South Africa.


Q & A: Desmond Tutu

Quotes: Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu Celebrates 75 years