Desmond Tutu Image Credit: ©Gulf News

The world still remembers the image of the visibly distraught Archbishop Desmond Tutu as he wept on live television whilst he listened to dreadful testimonies of his countrymen and women at the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the commission set up by the late leader Nelson Mandela to investigate the human rights abuses in apartheid-era South Africa.

The commission, a precedent in modern day world, may have done little to compensate the victims of those abuses but its chairman, Archbishop Tutu, often described as the moral conscience of his nation, was able to steer the hearings to become a constructive process to build the new South Africa.

On Sunday, Tutu, the civil rights leader and the first black archbishop of Cape Town, passed away peacefully at 90 years. The Nobel laureate struggled with cancer and other illnesses for years. But his legacy will endure long after his departure — his strong belief in human equality, defence of the rights of the poor and the oppressed.

Nobel laureate 

His struggle, along the great men of his generation like Mandela, to end the policy of racial segregation and discrimination set by the white minority government against the black majority in South Africa from 1948 until 1991, inspired millions of activists worldwide. In 1984, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to recognise his leading role in that historic struggle.

His contribution to equality in his county continued in liberated South Africa as he chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. His role was hailed worldwide as a groundbreaking attempt to heal the apartheid wounds and rebuild a new democratic nation.

Always the moral compass of South Africa, he became a leading critic in recent year of the ruling ANC party, embroiled in corruption scandals and centralisation of power.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday paid tribute to “an iconic spiritual leader, anti-apartheid activist and global human rights campaigner”.

“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.”

In the Arab world, Archbishop Tutu will always be remembered as an ardent defender of the Palestinian people’s right to independence.

“When a great man dies, for years the light he leaves behind him, lies on the paths of men,” says a famous quote. Tutu has left behind many lights that will continue to shine long after his death.