Archiving the Arch


  • Launch of Desmond Tutu digital platform preserving his teaching for posterity

  • His car, a valuable lesson in itself, goes on public display

  • The Archbishop would have celebrated his 92nd birthday today

At one minute past midnight, tonight, the first phase of a bespoke digital platform designed to make Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s extraordinary body of work publicly accessible is scheduled to go live online, to coincide with what would have been the Arch’s 92nd birthday.

The platform is available at

The first phase of the project entailed engaging with the Archbishop’s physical and digital archives, conceptualising the arrangement of the collection in line with periods of his life, digitising physical items and processing items already in digital form to populate those periods – and then designing the architecture of the digital archive and uploading the first tranche of materials.

Where sections of the archive are yet to be populated they are curated for silence; that is, their location is visible as it forms part of the essential environment.

The project will unfold over several years, as more and more materials are prepared (arranged, itemized, inventoried, captured in digital form, processed and professionally referenced) and uploaded. The next phase will also include linking the platform to important materials held in the archives of local and international universities, among others.

The aim is to provide a one-stop, comprehensive and accessible resource for present and future generations of learners and thinkers.

The project is being directed by the Archbishop Tutu IP Trust, which was established by the Archbishop to manage his intellectual property and associated rights.

There is also a physical aspect to the archiving initiative, with a large collection of papers, artefacts, books and gifts associated with the Archbishop located in Cape Town. The physical archive underpins the programmatic work of the Trust’s sister organization, the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, including the permanent exhibition at the Old Granary Building.

The most recent addition to materials on public display at the Granary is the Archbishop’s old Toyota Corolla which, in itself, teaches an important lesson about probity.

This is the modest (1600cc, with manual transmission) car that the Archbishop selected in 2008 after receiving a generous gift from a US billionaire that was sufficient to have bought an expensive limousine. Of course, his choice of ride was the antithesis of the cars favoured by South African government ministers, in a country beset by radical poverty.

When the Archbishop wrote to thank the billionaire and inform him of his choice, he said that instead of spending all the money he thought it should be shared with others.

“The Archbishop Tutu IP Trust is thrilled to have prepared the ground for the next phase of the archiving project that will draw in the expertise of university partners in the UK, US and South Africa,” said chairperson of the Trust, Dr Mamphela Ramphele.

“The digital platform has been designed to be accessible, easily searchable, and robust.

“Memory of Archbishop Tutu’s template for human leadership based on the principles of inter-dependence, love and justice for all cannot be lost to a world (and beloved country) being driven to the abyss by consumptiveness, inequality, and division,” Dr Ramphele said.

* The digital platform was developed for the Archbishop Tutu IP Trust by Africa Media Online, a South African company specializing in digital preservation and archiving, and AM Quartex, a UK-based company focusing on discoverability and design that allows users to access the archive on any digital device.

6 October 2023