Archbishop Desmond Tutu ends public career at 79

  • Published

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is stepping down from public life, as he celebrates his 79th birthday.

The man described as the "conscience" of South Africa was a prominent voice during the country's struggle against white minority rule.

He has since been the voice of reconciliation in a number of regional conflicts.

But the Nobel Peace prize winner says he wants to spend more time with his family and watching cricket.

He also says he wants to make way for a new generation of leaders.

BBC Southern Africa correspondent Karen Allen says Archbishop Tutu is a man widely considered as a moral compass in South Africa, admired for his integrity and adored for his infectious laugh.

Resentment and digestion

As a young cleric back in the 1970s, he was a vocal critic of the apartheid regime.

In the mid-1980s, when South Africa was still under white minority rule, he campaigned in the townships - on one occasion famously wading into the frontline to call for calm when a mob tried to lynch a suspected undercover policeman.

He became the first black archbishop of Cape Town in 1986.

After South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994, he chaired the Truth and Reconciliation commission - the body set up to investigate apartheid-era crimes - and occasionally broke down in tears at some of the horrific testimony.

But he always tried to forgive, saying in 2000 that: "Resentment and anger are bad for your blood pressure and your digestion."

In more recent times, he has been involved in conflict resolution with a group of prominent retired African statesmen called The Elders.

He has continued to court controversy - singling out leaders such as Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and Britain's Tony Blair for criticism.

Earlier this year, he described South Africa's hosting of the football World Cup finals as one of the most important events for the country since the end of apartheid.

He insists his departure aims to clear the way for new talent to blossom, but our correspondent says he remains a potent symbol of South African pride.