- Published on Jul 14, 2008
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Nobel Prize winner and South African cleric Archbishop Desmond Tutu will be awarded the 18th University of Michigan Wallenberg Medal by University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman in October.
After the medal presentation at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29 in Hill Auditorium, Tutu will give the Wallenberg Lecture. It is free and open to the public.
The first black South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Tutu rose to international fame during the 1980s as a deeply committed advocate of nonviolent resistance to apartheid. Tutu was outspoken in both South Africa and abroad, often comparing apartheid to Nazism and Communism. His passport was twice revoked and he was jailed in 1980 after taking part in a protest. It was widely understood that Tutu's growing international fame shielded him from harsher punishments.
Tutu's 1984 Nobel Peace Prize was a gesture of support for him and the South African Council of Churches, which he led at the time, in their efforts to end apartheid. Tutu supported disinvestments as a means to change, knowing the poor would be hit hardest by the policy. But he argued that they would be suffering "with a purpose." The policy succeeded and pushed the government toward reform. Tutu seized the moment and organized peaceful marches, which brought 30,000 people to the streets of Cape Town.
This marked a turning point: within months Nelson Mandela was freed from prison and apartheid began to crumble.
In 1994, the first free multi-racial elections in South African history led to a black majority government, the African National Congress, headed by Nelson Mandela. The following year Mandela asked Tutu to investigate atrocities committed on all sides during the apartheid years, appointing him chair of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Tutu brought his immense moral authority to the long and traumatic hearings.
The conflict under apartheid had resulted in violence and human rights abuses from all sides. No section of society was able to escape these abuses. According to Tutu, the TRC's final report underscored the importance of changing the quality of life of the most deprived. He described the process of the TRC as using "restorative rather than retributive justice, which is a kind of justice that says we are looking to the healing of relationships." Tutu's memoir "No Future Without Forgiveness" is an account of his work on the commission.
Today, Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, is widely regarded as South Africa's moral conscience. He continues to speak out passionately around the world on behalf of human rights. "When we look around us at some of the conflict areas of the world," said Tutu, "it becomes increasingly clear that there is not much of a future for them without forgiveness, without reconciliation."
Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, a 1935 graduate of the U-M College of Architecture, saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews near the end of World War II. Working in Budapest in the late 1930s, Wallenberg came into contact with many Jewish refugees from Europe. In 1944, at the request of Jewish organizations and the American War Refugee Board, the Swedish Foreign Ministry sent Wallenberg on a rescue mission to Budapest.
Over the course of six months, Wallenberg issued thousands of protective passports. He confronted Hungarian and German guards to secure the release of Jews whom he claimed were under Swedish protection, placing some 15,000 Jews into 31 safe houses.
After reporting to Soviet headquarters in Budapest on Jan. 17, 1945, Wallenberg vanished into the Soviet Gulag. Although the Russians say that Wallenberg died in 1947, the results of numerous investigations into his whereabouts remain inconclusive. The University of Michigan Raoul Wallenberg Endowment was established in 1985 to commemorate Wallenberg and to recognize those whose own courageous actions call to mind Wallenberg's extraordinary accomplishments and values.
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