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Desmond Tutu (1931-2021): Inspiration to VU Amsterdam

26 December 2021
With great sadness Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam learned of the passing away of South African and global moral beacon, Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu in the morning of 26 December.

Desmond Tutu received the Nobel Price for Peace in 1984 for his religiously inspired anti-apartheid activism. After his retirement as Archbishop of Cape Town, he became chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, installed in 1995 by the first democratically elected president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. In the post-apartheid South Africa Desmond Tutu kept a critical eye on the new ‘powers that be’ and didn’t spare them either. His persistent optimism for possibilities for change and his contagious sense of humour made him beloved around the world.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is grateful that Archbishop Desmond Tutu agreed in 2008 to become the patron of the Programme named after him, specifically geared towards building academic relations with South African universities through its six Desmond Tutu chairs, its joint PhDs, and the broader SAVUSA programme. Since the first SAVUSA PhD-graduation in 2014 by Jacob Meiring, graced by Tutu’s presence, many South African PhD candidates were and are to follow.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has learned important lessons from the 'The Arch'. For one, Tutu’s thinking has inspired us to emphasize inclusivity, be it on religion, politics, race, gender, sexuality, species, etc – issues that so easily divide people and societies and have been challenging for VU Amsterdam as well. His ecumenical faith, strong belief in values like ‘ubuntu’ – I am, because we are –  and lessons such as ‘there is no future without forgiveness’ – made him a champion of inclusivity.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam will continue to honour Desmond Tutu’s intellectual legacy through a range of activities with and responses to initiatives from South African universities.

We wish the family strength and comfort in these sad days. May they feel the emotional support from so many people worldwide who were inspired by Desmond Tutu’s vision and example.