The Desmond Tutu House is located in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa. It is the former home of Desmond Tutu and his family, and is now a historical heritage site.
Desmond Tutu was born in the Transvaal in 1931; he grew up to become a teacher but then resigned in protest of the poor education afforded non-white citizens. He began studying to be a priest and in 1960 was ordained an Anglican priest. He spent 1962-1966 studying theology at King’s College in London, England. On his return to South Africa, he preached the plight of the black South Africans and as a university lecturer he roused the people to action against inequality. He spent 1972 to 1975 in the UK as the Vice-Director of the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches and on his return to South Africa was appointed the first non-white Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg.
This was also the period when he moved into the Tutu House in Soweto with his wife and four children. Tutu fought Apartheid with diplomacy and became a social activist fighting for the rights of non-white South Africans. He employed peaceful marches, lecturing at important institutes around the world and his writing. Tutu compared Apartheid to Nazism, he advocated non-violent protests and he denounced terrorism. Tutu went on to receive the Venerable Order of Saint John from Queen Elizabeth II and to become a Nobel Peace Prize winner. He founded several charitable organizations and became a patron of others. In 1996 Tutu became the first Black Archbishop of Cape Town.
The Tutu House is on Vilakazi Street, Soweto, not far from Nelson Mandela’s former home. It was during the time that Tutu and his family lived here that he became a Nobel Laureate and that he led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for South Africa’s first multi-racial government led by Nelson Mandela. Soweto had long been a poverty stricken, dangerous slum township inhabited only by poor black South Africans, so when Apartheid ended Tutu had the option to move into better lodgings but he chose to remain here. Tutu could have moved to the upper-class neighborhood of Houghton (as Mandela did) but he didn’t want to be seen as an “honorary white.” He preferred to identify with the common people who had struggled for their freedom together with him. He remained in Soweto where electricity and clean running water was scarce and where conditions were below standard for someone of his station.
In 1990 Tutu’s home was extended and renovated (the same year that Apartheid officially ended) and Tutu remained living there until as recently as 2011. Today the house is not open to the public but it bears a blue plaque marking it as one of the important points along the Johannesburg Heritage Trail along with the nearby Mandela House. The stretch of street between the two Nobel Prize winners’ houses is a joyous celebration with art work representing historic events and triumphs. There are trees and benches along the street. Locals sell trinkets, souvenirs, art and crafts to tourists who come to see the homes of two of Africa’s biggest personalities. Visitors to the site never fail to mention how remarkable the atmosphere is on the streets of Soweto where the people welcome visitors and rejoice in the triumph of freedom.