(CNN) – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Anglican clergyman, whose good humor, inspiring message and conscientious work for civil and human rights has made him a revered leader in the fight to end apartheid made his home country South Africa has died. He was 90.

In a statement confirming his death on Sunday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed condolences to Tutu’s family and friends, calling him “a patriot like no other”.

“A man of an exceptional nature.” Intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid and oppressed and oppressed people around the world, “said Ramaphosa / p> Tutu had been in poor health for years. In 2013 he was tested for a persistent infection and was hospitalized several times in the following years.

For six decades, Tutu – affectionately known as “the bow” – was one of the most important voices in the South African government’s admonition of apartheid, the official one End racial segregation policy. After apartheid ended in the early 1990s and long-imprisoned Nelson Mandela became president of the country, Tutu was appointed chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

His civil and human rights work resulted in prominent honors around the world. President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. In 2012, Tutu received a US $ 1 million grant from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for “his lifelong commitment to telling the truth to power.” The following year he received the Templeton Prize for his “lifelong work promoting spiritual principles such as love and forgiveness that have helped set people around the world”. Most notably, he received the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize and followed in the footsteps of his compatriot Albert Lutuli, who received the award in 1960.

The Nobel Prize cemented Tutu’s status as a leading figure in South Africa, a position he gained in the course of the protests against apartheid. Despite anger over politics within South Africa and widespread global disapproval – the country was banned from the Olympic Games from 1964 to 1988 – the South African government suppressed the opposition, banned the African National Congress party and imprisoned its leaders, including Mandela.

It is up to the clergy to take the lead, said Rev. Frank Chikane, former head of the South African Council of Churches and a fellow tutu.

“We have reached the stage where the Church is a protector of the The people who were the voice of the people, “Chikane told CNN.

In the 1950s, Tutu resigned as a teacher in protest of the government’s restrictions on education for black children, the Bantu Education Act. Ordained in 1960, he spent the 1960s and early 1970s alternating between London and South Africa. In 1975 he was appointed dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg and immediately took advantage of his new position to make political statements.

“When we were appointed, we said … ‘Well, we’re going to live in Soweto,'” said he the Academy of Achievement, referring to the black townships of Johannesburg. “And with that – we always start by making a political statement, even without articulating it in words.”

It was not a plan, although he was inspired by Trevor Huddleston at a young age, a priest and early Anti-apartheid activist who worked in a Johannesburg slum in the 1950s. In doing so, he inspired thousands of his compatriots – and more around the world.

“Desmond Tutu had no other reason to act as he did, other than his deep sense of our common humanity, which he fostered Establish a world where justice and the welfare of all are an expression of his ethical leadership of compassion, “Bishop Priest Robert V. Taylor wrote on CNN in 2011.

” I would get really angry at God. I would say, ‘I mean, how on behalf of all that is good, can you allow this or that?’ “He told the Academy of Achievement. “But I did not doubt that in the end good, right, justice would prevail.”

Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born on October 7, 1931 in Klerksdorp, a town in the Transvaal province of South Africa. His father was a teacher, his mother a domestic worker, and young Tutu had plans to become a doctor, thanks in part to a childhood tuberculosis attack that took him to the hospital for over a year. He even graduated from medical school, he said. “The government gave scholarships to people who wanted to become teachers,” he told the Academy of Achievement. “I became a teacher and I haven’t regretted it.” However, he was appalled by the state of black South African schools and even more appalled when the 1953 Bantu Education Act was passed, which racially segregated the country’s education system. He resigned in protest. Not long afterwards, the Bishop of Johannesburg agreed to accept him into the priesthood – Tutu believed it was a black person with a college education, a rarity in the 1950s – and accepted his new calling.

The 1960s and The 1970s were turbulent times in South Africa. In March 1960, 69 people were killed in the Sharpeville massacre when South African police opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators. Lutuli, an ANC leader who preached non-violence, received the Nobel Peace Prize that same year – although he was not allowed to leave the country. (The government eventually let him go for a few days to accept his award.)

Mandela – then an arsonist who led an armed wing of the ANC – was arrested, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. In the early 1970s, the government forced millions of blacks to settle in so-called “home countries.” Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg. The next year he was ordained bishop of Lesotho. He became known through a letter in May 1976 to the Prime Minister warning of unrest.

As the government became more and more repressive – imprisoning blacks, enacting incriminating laws – Tutu became more and more open.

“He was one of the most hated people, especially from White South Africa, for his demeanor, “Alex Boraine, former Truth and Reconciliation Commission member, told CNN.

Chikane, the South African Council of Churches colleague, added:” His moral Authority (was) both his weapon and his shield, which enabled him to face his oppressors with a rare impunity. “

South Africa became a pariah country. Protesters in the United States protested against corporate investment in the nation, and Congress backed that stance with the 1987 Rangel Amendment. The United Nations has imposed a cultural boycott. Popular songs like “Free Nelson Mandela” by Special AKA and “Sun City” by Artists United Against Apartheid lamented the country’s politics.

With his scarlet robes, Tutu made a distinctive figure as he preached from the tyrant’s pulpit – maybe never more than in his 1984 Nobel Prize speech.

After reducing the prejudices and inequalities of the apartheid system, Tutu summed up his thoughts. “In short,” he said, “this country, which is richly endowed in many ways, unfortunately lacks justice.”

Other injustices followed: assassinations, allegations of killer squads, and bomb attacks. In 1988, two years after his appointment as Archbishop of Cape Town, Tutu was the first black man to be arrested at the head of the Anglican Church in South Africa when he brought a petition against apartheid to the South African parliament.

But the tide turned. The next year, Tutu led a 20,000-man march in Cape Town. Also in 1989 a new president, F. W. de Klerk, began easing apartheid laws. Finally, on February 11, 1990, Mandela was released from prison after 27 years.

Four years later, in 1994, Mandela was elected President. Likening first voting to “falling in love”, Tutu said, behind the birth of his first child, introducing Mandela as the country’s new president was the greatest moment of his life.

Tutu’s work, however, was not done. In 1995, Mandela appointed him chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with human rights violations during the apartheid years. Tutu collapsed at the TRC’s first hearing in 1996.

The TRC submitted its report to the government in 1998. Tutu founded the Desmond Tutu Peace Trust that same year.

He returned to teaching, was visiting professor at Emory University in Atlanta for two years and later taught at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has published a handful of books, including “No Future Without Forgiveness” (1999), “God Is Not a Christian” (2011), and a children’s book, “Desmond and the Very Mean Word” (2012).

He undressed in 2010 returned to the civil service but was not afraid to take up controversial positions. He called for a boycott of Israel in 2014, saying that former US President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair should be “held accountable” in the International Criminal Court for their actions around the Iraq war.

But he also stood out for his sense of humor, embodied in a distinctive, giggling laugh.

When he attended The Daily Show in 2004, he broke up over Jon Stewart’s jokes. And he poked fun at On Being interviewer Krista Tippett in 2014, blaming her for not offering him the dried mangoes – his favorite mangoes – that she brought back.

Despite all the praise and fame, he said CNN however, he doesn’t feel like a “great man”.

“What is a great man?” he said. “I just know that I had incredible, incredible opportunities. … If you stand out in a crowd, it’s only because you are carried on someone else’s shoulders.”

For all of his good works, he added on top of that, there could have been another reason why he had so many followers.

“They only took me because I have that big nose,” he said. “And I have this simple name, Tutu.”

Tutu leaves behind his 60-year-old wife, Nomalizo Leah Tutu, with whom he had four children, Trevor, Theresa, Naomi and Mpho.

That story came first published on CNN.com: “Desmond Tutu, anti-apartheid leader and voice of justice, dead at 90”

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