Tutu honoured as he turns 75

NOBEL peace laureate Desmond Tutu, the conscience of South Africa, turns 75 today — his acerbic tongue and irrepressible humour as sharp as during his anti-apartheid crusades.

Some 1,200 guests — including former President Nelson Mandela — are due to attend a gala dinner in Johannesburg, capping weeks of celebrations in honour of the retired archbishop of Cape Town, or Arch as he is fondly called.

In typical fashion, Dr Tutu has been finding time for ordinary people amid all the festivities. He knocked around a ball at the Homeless World Cup in Cape Town last week and was treated to a rapturous rendition of Happy Birthday just hours ahead of a formal concert.

Far from slowing down, Dr Tutu seems more determined than ever to speak up on issues ranging from crime to the war in Iraq.

“What has happened to us? It seems as if we have perverted our freedom, our rights into licence, into being irresponsible,” he said last week.

“Perhaps we did not realise just how apartheid has damaged us so that we seem to have lost our sense of right and wrong,” said the man who voted for the first time at 62 and coined the phrase Rainbow Nation of God in celebration of South Africa’s different peoples.

Dr Tutu was named earlier this year as a member of a UN advisory panel on genocide prevention.

He was named Anglican archbishop of Cape Town in 1986 and awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1994.

He retired in 1996 but then agreed to a request by Mr Mandela to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to help the country come to terms with the horrors committed under white racist rule.

Dr Tutu sometimes broke down and wept with the victims as he listened to two years of harrowing testimony about atrocities committed under apartheid.

He criticised the last white President FW De Klerk for failing to accept responsibility for apartheid — and also lambasted the current government’s limit of 30,000 rands (around €3,000) for victims.

Just as Dr Tutu was a thorn in the flesh of the white government, he has not shied away from criticising leaders of the ruling African National Congress.

He celebrated 50 years of marriage last year to his wife Leah, with Mr Mandela and his wife Graca Machel as guests.

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