With deep sadness, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) marks the passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an iconic freedom fighter and defender of tolerance whose love comforted, inspired, and empowered millions of people in his native South Africa and around the world for generations. For advocates and people affected by HIV/AIDS, Archbishop Tutu holds a special place as a fearless leader who never shied away from speaking the truth even when it clashed with politics or religion.
At a time when the South African government was refusing to acknowledge the reality of the HIV/AIDS epidemic sweeping the country in the early 2000s and the efficacy of antiretroviral treatment, Archbishop Tutu famously said in a sharp rebuke of then-president Thabo Mbeki, “Apartheid tried to destroy our people and apartheid failed. If we don’t act against HIV/AIDS, it may succeed, for it is already decimating our population.” Archbishop Tutu was also unequivocal in his condemnation of homophobia even though his views clashed with the Anglican Church to which he belonged. He quipped that, “If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship God.” In 1984, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his human rights and anti-Apartheid activism.
“Africa has lost a beloved champion and staunch defender of human rights who was never afraid of saying what needed to be said even if doing so put his own life in danger,” said AHF Africa Bureau Chief Dr. Penninah Iutung. “Though soft spoken and often witty, Archbishop Tutu always faced injustice with unparalleled courage and conviction of a man of faith, whether it was racism, HIV/AIDS discrimination, homophobia, or economic inequality. Perhaps the best way to honor Archbishop Tutu’s memory is to embrace his commitment to resilience and compassion for humanity as we find ourselves in the middle of another pandemic.”
Throughout the years following the start of AHF’s first international treatment program in Durban, South Africa in 2001, Archbishop Tutu lent his voice to support AHF advocacy efforts several times, most notably by addressing the Keep the Promise March on Washington during the International AIDS Conference in 2012 via a video message and by asking his daughter Mpho Tutu to speak on his behalf at the historic Keep the Promise March in Durban, South Africa in 2016. Today, Archbishop Tutu’s legacy as an AIDS activist continues with the work of the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation, which was one of the first public clinics to provide anti-retroviral treatment in Cape Town, and through the lives of countless people he inspired to affirm life and truth.
“A prince of a man has passed. Archbishop Tutu’s impact on history went far beyond South Africa,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “He was a consistent voice for freedom and understanding. On many occasions he answered the call when AHF asked for his support. He will be sorely missed.”