Desmond Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, South Africa, in 1931, the son of a schoolteacher and a domestic worker. At the age of 12, he first met and was later greatly influenced by the Rev. Trevor Huddleston, an Anglican cleric in the Johannesburg township of Sophiatown and outspoken early critic of apartheid.
After graduating from Johannesburg Bantu High School, he chose to follow his father's career. He took a teacher's diploma at the Pretoria Bantu Normal College and studied for his bachelor of arts degree at the University of South Africa. He was a teacher at the Johannesburg Bantu High School for a year and then moved to Munsieville High School in Krugersdorp for three years. It was here that he married his wife, Leah. They have three daughters, a son and several grandchildren.
In 1958, following the introduction of Bantu education, the archbishop entered the ministry in the Church of the Province of Southern Africa and became an ordained at St Peter's Theological College in Rosettenville. He received his licentiate in theology in 1960 and was ordained to the priesthood in Johannesburg in 1961. Shortly afterwards, he went to study in London, where he obtained bachelor of divinity honours and master of theology degrees while acting as a part-time curate.
In 1967, he returned to South Africa and joined the staff of the Federal Theological Seminary in Alice and became chaplain at the University of Fort Hare. He moved to the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland in 1970, where he held the post of lecturer in the Department of Theology. This step was followed by further time in England as associate director of the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches, based in Kent, England.
Tutu became dean of St. Mary's Cathedral in Johannesburg in 1975, but shortly thereafter was elected bishop of Lesotho. By this time South Africa was in turmoil in the wake of the Soweto uprising of 1976, and Bishop Tutu was persuaded to leave the Diocese of Lesotho to take up the post of general secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). It was in this position, a post he held from 1978-85, that Bishop Tutu became a national and international figure.
Inevitably, Bishop Tutu became heavily embroiled in controversy as he spoke out against the injustice of the apartheid system. For several years, he was denied a passport to travel abroad, but in 1982 the South African government withdrew this restriction in the face of national and international concern. The name of Bishop Tutu became synonymous with that of the SACC as he became the leader of the crusade for justice and racial conciliation in South Africa. In 1984, his contribution to the cause of racial justice in South Africa was recognized when he received the highest award the world can offer - the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1995, President Nelson Mandela appointed Archbishop Tutu to chair South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body set up to probe gross human rights violations between 1960 and the president's inauguration in 1994. Archbishop Tutu and his fellow Commissioners presented the Commission's Report in October 1998.
He retired from office as archbishop of Cape Town in June 1996, but was named archbishop emeritus in July 1996. Before 1990, Archbishop Tutu's vigorous advocacy of social justice made him a figure of controversy. Today he is seen more as an elder statesman with a major role to play in reconciliation, and as a leading moral voice.