Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August...

Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August 1986. Credit: AFP via Getty Images/Trevor Samson

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 90, of South Africa, who died Sunday in Cape Town, showed the courage of a true peacemaker.

Clad in his trademark purple robe, he ran one day in 1985 to protect a man about to be burned on the makeshift pyre of a blazing automobile by an excited mob. The targeted Black man was said to have collaborated with white authorities enforcing the explicitly racist laws then in force.

‘’This undermines the struggle!’’ Tutu shouted as he managed to separate the man from his assailants.

To many tuning in from afar, this Anglican cleric — 5-foot-4, white-haired, jovial in manner, speaking English in the accent of his native Klerksdorp — became not only the most appealing international icon of the anti-apartheid movement, but the face of his faith on a continent that now has more Christians than Europe.

Also worth remembering about the Nobel Peace Prize winner: how much grit his efforts at national reconciliation after apartheid took, as he preached restorative rather than retributive justice.

Tutu’s benevolent persona may have obscured just how controversial his positions could be. There were liberal whites who considered him too radical, Blacks who thought him too conciliatory, and leftists who deemed him too anti-communist. And once the nation’s Black majority governance took hold, Tutu was unafraid to denounce what he saw as its own corruption and excesses.

If a social lesson is to be drawn from Tutu’s long life, it is that confronting the destructive will of others takes more effort, and holds more value, than instigating or ignoring abuses from a secure perch.

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