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South Africa's Tutu dies

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, right, reacts with Archbishop Desmond Tutu during the launch of a Walter and Albertina Sisulu exhibition, called, 'Parenting a Nation', at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, March 12, 2008.

JOHANNESBURG — Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning icon, an uncompromising foe of apartheid and a modern-day activist for racial justice and LGBT rights, died Sunday at 90. South Africans, world leaders and people around the globe mourned the death of the man viewed as the country’s moral conscience.

Tutu worked passionately, tirelessly and non-violently to tear down apartheid — South Africa’s brutal, decades-long regime of oppression against its Black majority that ended in 1994.

The buoyant, blunt-spoken clergyman used his pulpit as the first Black bishop of Johannesburg and later as the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, as well as frequent public demonstrations, to galvanize public opinion against racial inequity, both at home and globally.

Nicknamed “the Arch,” the diminutive Tutu became a towering figure in his nation’s history, comparable to fellow Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela, a prisoner during white rule who became South Africa’s first Black president. Tutu and Mandela shared a commitment to building a better, more equal South Africa.

Tutu’s death on Sunday “is another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

Tutu died peacefully at the Oasis Frail Care Center in Cape Town, his trust said. He had been hospitalized several times since 2015 after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997.

“He turned his own misfortune into a teaching opportunity to raise awareness and reduce the suffering of others,” said the Tutu trust.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama hailed Tutu as “a moral compass for me and so many others. A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere. He never lost his impish sense of humor and willingness to find humanity in his adversaries.”

A seven-day mourning period is planned in Cape Town before Tutu’s burial, including a two-day lying in state, an ecumenical service and an Anglican requiem Mass at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. The southern city’s landmark Table Mountain will be lit up in purple, the color of the robes Tutu wore as archbishop.

Throughout the 1980s — when South Africa was gripped by anti-apartheid violence and a state of emergency gave police and the military sweeping powers — Tutu was one of the most prominent Black leaders able to speak out against abuses.

A lively wit lightened Tutu’s hard-hitting messages and warmed otherwise grim protests, funerals and marches. Plucky and tenacious, he was a formidable force with a canny talent for quoting apt scriptures to harness support for change.

The Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 highlighted his stature as one of the world’s most effective champions for human rights.