Archbishop Desmond Tutu gives the key-note speech at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela held at The Nelson Mandela Foundation Centre of Memory in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2013. Tutu, the theologian and human rights activist who helped end apartheid in South Africa, died Sunday in Cape Town. File Photo by Charlie Shoemaker/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the theologian and human rights activist who helped end apartheid in South Africa, died Sunday in Cape Town. He was 90.
Tutu's death was announced by the country's president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who called Tutu a "patriot without equal."
"The passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is another chapter of bereavement in our nation's farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa," Ramaphosa tweeted.
"Desmond Tutu was a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead. We pray that Archbishop Tutu's soul will rest in peace but that his spirit will stand sentry over the future of our nation."
The Nobel Peace Laureate, who once headed the South African Council of Churches, emphasized nonviolent means of protest throughout anti-apartheid movements in the 1980s and encouraged other countries to introduce economic sanctions against the country unless apartheid was lifted.
When apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela became president, Tutu was named as chair of the newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission -- a massive, televised inquiry listening to testimony from victims of human rights abuses to seek restorative justice.
Tributes from the world's religious and political leaders began pouring in Sunday after Tutu's death was announced.
The Dalai Lama of Tibet released a public letter to Tutu's daughter Rev. Mpho Tutu, calling him a "respected elder spiritual brother and good friend."
"Archbishop Desmond Tutu was entirely dedicated to serving his brothers and sisters for the greater common good. He was a true humanitarian and a committed advocate of human rights. His work for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an inspiration for others around the world," the letter reads.
Naomi Tutu, another of the late cleric's children, released a statement about her father on Twitter.
"My dad is at rest. Thank you Tshezi for all you have been to our family and the world. Lala ngo xolo Desmond Mpilo Tutu," she tweeted.
Bernice King, the CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and youngest daughter of the late American civil rights leader to whom Tutu was often compared, called Tutu a "global sage" in a tribute on Twitter.
"I'm saddened to learn of the death of global sage, human rights leader, and powerful pilgrim on earth, Archbishop #DesmondTutu. A great, influential elder is now an eternal, witnessing ancestor. And we are better because he was here," King tweeted. "I'm praying for Archbishop Tutu's family."
Former President Barack Obama, who awarded Tutu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, honored Tutu in a statement to Twitter.
"Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a mentor, a friend, and a moral compass for me and so many others. A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere," Obama tweeted.