Arch in 91 lines

A 91-point biography of Archbishop Tutu on his 91st birthday

  1. Clan name: Tshezi

  2. His sisters called him: Boy

  3. Health: Overcame polio, severe burns and then TB in his childhood

  4. Household chores: Not very diligent, elder sister Sylvia recalled; he’d cry when told to fetch water in the yard.

  5. Discipline at home: His father was a great disciplinarian… “when you did something wrong he’d wallop you,” his younger sister, Gloria said

  6. Mrs Aletta Tutu: To augment the family income, his mother washed clothes for white families and, later, at a school for disabled children

  7. Role-model: He described his mother as an extraordinarily loving and compassionate woman, always the peacemaker – and sought to emulate her kindness throughout his life

  8. Trevor Huddleston: A good priest from England whom he first met on the street outside his township home, and had an indelible impression on his life; he called his only son, Trevor

  9. Apartheid heartland: His father taught in a number of small towns in the then- Transvaal before settling in Krugersdorp. Growing up, he thus came to know well about separate entrances for Blacks, and being humiliated by Whites

  10. Reading: He read comics in his youth

  11. Sport: Played cricket – described by Mrs Tutu as looking peculiar in his whites (cricket didn’t have a big footprint in their township at the time)

  12. Hunter-gatherer: He’d sometimes accompany his father on fishing expeditions for the family table

  13. Debater: Up-and-coming lawyer Nelson Mandela once attended an inter-school debate in which he was a participant, but they didn’t meet until after Madiba’s release

  14. Teacher: Followed his father into teaching, but changed professions due to introduction of apartheid education policy

  15. Grandmother’s vision: His grandmother had dreamed he’d become a priest when he was very young, which was never forgotten by the family. When he decided to study for the priesthood it was thus not a huge surprise – though his father was unimpressed

  16. Fame: Said few might have heard of him were it not for the instantly recognizable shape of his nose, and easily pronounceable name

  17. Discrimination: He described apartheid to schoolchildren in Sweden as being similar to a society in which people with big noses lived bountiful lives while people with small noses had nothing

  18. Love: Married his sister’s best friend, and father’s favourite pupil, Nomalizo Leah Shenxane

  19. Romantic: Took great care with wedding and anniversary gifts for Leah, to whom he was married for 66 years

  20. First marital home: A converted garage

  21. Would-be doctor: Accepted to medical school, but unaffordable. Six decades later joined final year medical student practicals at Tygerberg Hospital for the experience

  22. A doctor’s handwriting: Polio affected his right hand and forced him to write with his left

  23. Graduate: University of South Africa and King’s College London

  24. Language: Besides speaking, or at least understanding, most of South Africa’s 11 official languages, he also knew a bit of Greek and Latin from his schooldays

  25. The King’s English: Fastidious about grammar, he loathed split infinitives

  26. Curate: Served as a curate in Golders Green, London,and at Bletchingley in Surrey

  27. First Black: Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral, Bishop of Johannesburg, Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches, Archbishop of Cape Town…

  28. Second SA Nobel Peace Laureate: The first was President of the ANC, Inkosi Albert Luthuli; both were rewarded for their contribution to the struggle against apartheid

  29. Voice for the voiceless: Long-serving apartheid Foreign Minister Pik Botha told of being sent to London to do “damage control” after cabinet discussions about the impact of the Arch’s speeches and interviews

  30. Spatial injustice: Declined to apply for a permit to live in the Deanery, in a whites-only suburb of Johannesburg. Lived in Soweto, instead

  31. Defiance of Group Areas Act: When appointed Archbishop of Cape Town he moved into the official residence in Bishopscourt without seeking the State’s approval

  32. Never joined a political party: After the unbanning of South African political organisations, he asked members of the clergy not to join political parties because he said, in a violent environment, they should be able to minister to all in their communities

  33. Your vote is your secret: After first getting the chance to participate in South African elections in his 60s, he never said who he voted for

  34. Morning drink: Preferred hot chocolate, but served coffee in bed to Leah at 6am every morning

  35. Beverage: Learned to drink Rum and Coke in Barbados but later turned to Appletizer

  36. Main course: At home, Mrs Tutu sought to serve meals comprising five different colours

  37. Braai: He loved barbecued meat and never considered becoming a vegetarian

  38. Custard: Loved it

  39. Ice-cream: Rum and raisin; later vanilla

  40. Teatime: Chocolate cake wasn’t his favourite

  41. Faith: Eucharist daily, regardless of location in the world

  42. Friday habit: Presided over morning service on Fridays at St George’s Cathedral for many years after formally retiring, followed by coffee (and hot chocolate) with friends at a local coffee shop

  43. Intercessory prayer: Maintained daily lists to enable him to pray for people by name, those who were sick, those who had suffered bereavements and those in need – including for apartheid leaders to mend their thinking, and for leaders in the democratic era, too

  44. Bomb-proof: The small chapel built alongside his Soweto home in the 1980s, when it was feared he may be targeted by forces acting in the interests of the regime

  45. Criticising President A: In 2004 he told then President Thabo Mbeki: “Thank you Mr President for telling me what you think of me, that I am a liar with scant regard for the truth, and a charlatan posing with his concern for the poor, the hungry, the oppressed and the voiceless. I will continue to pray for you and your government by name daily as I have done and as I did even for the apartheid government.”

  46. Criticising President B: In 2011 he told then-President Jacob Zuma that he did not represent him, and warned that he would pray for the demise of the ANC as he had done for the demise of the National Party

  47. Dalai Lama: He regarded His Holiness’ ability to fill large US stadia as a sign of peoples’ yearning for human-centered leadership

  48. Retreat: Aimed to spend at least eight days a year on retreat, and one quiet day per week. Among his soul-charging destinations was a retreat center in the woods near the small Swedish town of Rattvik where life is conducted in silence

  49. God’s sense of humour: When appointed to chair The Elders, he said the fact that he, a lowly South African township urchin, was chairing a committee that included a former US President and UN Secretary-General, was evidence of God’s sense of humour

  50. His own sense of humour: He used humour as a platform to convey important messages, laughing uproariously at every telling – though he was sometimes guilty of missing the punchline of jokes told by others

  51. Example of humour: He liked making himself the butt of his own stories, such as the one about rowing a small boat with apartheid President PW Botha when the wind came up, blowing Botha’s hat into the water. Jumping up, he (the Arch) walked across the water to retrieve it – only for the papers to report the following day that he couldn’t swim…

  52. Irony: He said the fact that landlocked Zimbabwe had a marine resources department was no stranger than apartheid South Africa having a department of justice

  53. Meditation: Communicating with God was not as simple as picking up a phone and dialing the number, he said. It was a process that he likened to sitting next to a fire, and beginning to take on the attributes of the fire, its warmth and glow, until reaching the point of feeling at one with the fire

  54. God and democracy: During the anti-apartheid struggle and, later, at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, colleagues who subscribed to democratic processes were sometimes taken aback by his prayerful decision-making… How do you argue with God, they asked?

  55. “God doesn’t just zap the baddies”: Though right always eventually triumphed over wrong, he said, God created humans as moral beings with the gift of being able to choose right from wrong, and with the freedom even to choose wrong

  56. Letterhead: For years, his letterhead included the verse (1 John 4:7): “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.”

  57. Forgiveness: Said he would be open to forgiving even Adolf Hitler if Hitler acknowledged his sins and asked for forgiveness

  58. Generosity: When media asked what he did with prize money, he responded that the left hand shouldn’t know what the right is doing (Matthew 6:3, and the Holy Koran)

  59. Personality weakness: Felt uncomfortable about feeling comfortable in the limelight

  60. Fitness: Walked daily, often picking up litter

  61. Apple or Android: Apple; he embraced modern communication technology and was a serial emailer maintaining personal contact with hundreds of friends

  62. Drive: When US billionaire Warren Buffett offered to buy him a car, he chose a Toyota Corolla 1.3

  63. Driver: The State assigned him a driver during the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. When former President Mandela later saw him driving himself, he arranged for a sponsor to pay for a driver. In latter years, the Arch was driven by his son-in-law, Mthunzi.

  64. Mechanical skill: None. Mrs Tutu did a mechanic’s course to avoid having to deal with hostile small-town mechanics when on long trips taking the children to and from school…

  65. Padkos: To avoid unfriendly small-town restaurants, the preparation of ample food before leaving home was a key part of the journey

  66. What he did the road: Demanded long periods of silence in order to do his prayerful work, a tall order for others in the car

  67. DIY skill: None; Mrs Tutu’s department

  68. Male chauvinism: He eschewed it… he’d shock male colleagues with whom he shared a meal by jumping up first to clear the dirty dishes and plates

  69. Security: Had a guard at his front gate while chair of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, to whom he served coffee daily at 6am

  70. Fan: Committed cricket and rugby fan to the point of throwing things at the television screen

  71. “The Beast”: Helped ex-Zimbabwe rugby player Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira to attain South African citizenship, opening the way for a storied Springbok career

  72. Not much of a swimmer: Richard Branson gave him swimming lessons in 2008

  73. Cancer: Lived with prostate cancer for more than 20 years

  74. Cheesekop: Shaved his head daily for the last 10 years of his life

  75. Sartorial style: When he told Nelson Mandela it would be fitting for him to wear a suit, Mandela responded it was rich advice coming from a man in a pink frock

  76. Pink or purple: He said the colour of his cassocks was purple (the colour associated with Archbishop’s since the 5th century)

  77. The environment: Described climate injustice as the human rights challenge of our time

  78. Holy land: A stern critic of the state of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians he was accused by some of being anti-Semitic, though he prayed equally for Jews, Muslims and Christians caught up in the conflict

  79. Myanmar: Kept a photograph of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on his desk while she was under house arrest, but after her ascension to the office of State Counsellor roundly criticized her inaction in response to the genocide of the Rohingya

  80. George Bush and Tony Blair: He called for them to be tried for lying about the reasons for invading Iraq in 2003: “The then leaders of the United States and Great Britain fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart”

  81. Gender: Said male leaders had brought the world to the brink of destruction, and strongly advocated for more women leaders

  82. Sexuality: He would not worship a homophobic God

  83. Abortion: When anti-abortion demonstrators wanted an Cape Town abortion clinic to remove a poster of the Arch in the foyer, he insisted that the poster should remain

  84. Universal Health Care: Anxious that the excellent health care he received should be extended to all South Africans, he strongly supported global initiatives to use technology to expose patients in far-flung areas to the attention of medical specialists

  85. Dignified dying: Believed terminally ill patients should have the right to choose to disavow treatment and be supported to die in dignity

  86. The word he most struggled to say: “No”.

  87. Ageing process: Said increased contemplation of experiences and wisdom stored in the deep recesses of memory provided a measure of compensation for memory and mobility loss in old age

  88. Wish for his 90th birthday: When His Holiness the Dalai Lama was declined a visa to attend his 80th birthday, he said he hoped the Dalai Lama would be able to accept the invitation for his 90th

  89. Heaven: Didn’t take for granted that he’d be accepted into heaven

  90. Never giving up: He told the story of a sleepless devil pleading with St Peter to admit him (the Arch) upstairs because he was extremely troublesome

  91. Rule-from-the-grave: Nelson Mandela said that he had never believed in the concept of people ruling from the grave, but was tempted to believe it with regard to Archbishop Tutu who fulfilled his ambition to serve his people and his country