Honorary awards

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

The degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) was conferred upon Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu by the Deputy Chancellor Mrs Renata Kaldor at a ceremony held in the Great Hall on 26 November 1999.

At a dinner that evening, the Governor-General, Sir William Deane, presented Archbishop Tutu with the Sydney Peace Foundation's prestigious Sydney Peace Prize for his significant contribution to global peace, justice and the principles of non-violence. Sir William referred to "his courage in promoting racial harmony" and to "the relevance of his leadership to Australia's commitment to reconciliation with its own indigenous people".

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, photo, 'The University of Sydney News', 2 December 1999, University of Sydney Archives.


Presented by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Gavin Brown:

Deputy Chancellor

I have the honour to present Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu for the conferring of the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa).

Desmond Tutu was born in Klerksdorp in the Transvaal. He was educated at Johannesburg Bantu High School and at Pretoria Bantu College. He married his wife Leah in a Roman Catholic church which was later demolished because it was 'a black spot in what should have been a lily white area'. In those early apartheid years he worked as a school teacher and studied theology. He was ordained a priest in 1960. He gained a Master of Theology degree in 1966, taught theology in South Africa's Theological Seminary in the late 60's and in the early 70's was Associate Director of the London-based Theological Education Fund for the World Council of Churches.

He was appointed the first black Dean of Johannesburg in 1975, Bishop of Lesotho from 1976-78 and General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches from 1978 to 1985. He was elected Archbishop of Cape Town in 1987. Those were years of working against racial oppression and for democracy. Desmond Tutu first voted in his own country when he was 62 years of age. Nelson Mandela first voted when he was 76.

Archbishop Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his civil rights leadership in opposing the regime of South African apartheid. That award was a recognition by the Norwegian Nobel Committee of South Africans' struggle for democracy. In his Nobel acceptance speech Desmond Tutu commented on the means of attaining the human rights of all peoples. 'We are not made for an exclusive self-sufficiency but for interdependence and we break that law of our being at our peril. ... We can be human only in fellowship, in community, in koinonia, in peace'.

In 1994 Archbishop Tutu was appointed by President Mandela to head South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. His book on that experience, No Future Without Forgiveness, illustrates his conviction that humanness can only be realized through relationships with others and that reconciliation depends on justice which is restorative not retributive.

Archbishop Tutu's inspiration and moral authority has been attributed to his faith, his family - he writes that women in South Africa have been magnificent- and to his relationship with former President Nelson Mandela. It has been observed about their leadership of South Africa that one was the grave, reliable father, the other a naughty uncle, an inspiring figure in ermine who carried his country's emotional baggage, weeping in moments of grief, dancing on occasions of joy.

His life displays a belief that even from the depths of despair, reconciliation can occur and justice can be achieved. In correspondence, in speeches and in his stress on the importance of quiet times to restore faith and energy, Archbishop Tutu highlights the value of reflection. He teaches that reflective thought is crucial to the exercise of the rights and obligations of citizenship and that it is also a key ingredient in students' experience of achieving understanding and finding fulfillment.

This ceremony is also an opportunity to reflect, to celebrate and to express thanks that we have the opportunity to honour the work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He is one of the 20th century's significant campaigners for social justice. In South Africa and on a world stage he has given courageous spiritual and political leadership. He is currently the Robert W Woodruff distinguished Visiting Professor of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. He comes to Sydney as the winner of the 1999 Sydney Peace Prize. The citation for that prize refers to 'his courage in promoting racial harmony' and to 'the relevance of his leadership to Australia's commitment to reconciliation with its own indigenous people'.

Deputy Chancellor, I have great pleasure in presenting Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu for admission to the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa).