Nazeem Muhajarine – The world lost a great man on December 26, 2021 – freedom and justice fighter, moral icon, the people’s archbishop, and Nobel laureate.

The likes of the reverend Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu come along only once in a generation. When he died on December 26, 2021, at age 90, he left a country that had been liberated from the brutal and insidious policy of Apartheid, a colonial framework that is unparalleled in the modern era.

Desmond Tutu had devoted his life to ‘right this wrong.’ His life-long struggle to liberate his people from the clutches of Apartheid colonialism bore fruit when South Africa democratically elected its first black president in 1994. At that time, Archbishop Tutu called the new post-apartheid South Africa, the ‘rainbow nation’, aptly reflecting the heady promise of a newly liberated multi-racial country.

Nazeem Muhajarine with Desmond Tutu.

I am reminiscing of the day that I had my brush with this great man. In May 1987, I was the senior class president, of the graduating class of ’87, Oberlin College, Ohio, and I had led a successful student-led campaign to bring Tutu to our Convocation as the honorary guest. On that occasion, I shared the platform with Tutu, along with other dignitaries, giving speeches (in my case, the class president’s address, in Tutu’s case, the commencement speech), and generally basking in the glow of this great man.

In addressing the graduating class on that day in 1987, Desmond Tutu did not disappoint. As I remember, his message was buoyant, inspirational, and laced with the wit and humour that Tutu was well-known for. Words like ‘humdinger’ were thrown about.    

I also led a campaign to raise funds from my fellow students ($6000 USD at that time) for his memorial scholarship fund—and I presented a symbolic cheque along with a Haagen daz tub of rum-raisin ice cream, both which he delightfully received! We had heard from a reliable source, his daughter, that the great man had a fondness for rum-raisin ice cream. We couldn’t resist.

As I write this, I don’t expect to come close to greatness as I did on that sunny spring day in May 1987. He leaves an indelible mark within me as his legacy does for all humanity.

Nazeem Muhajarine is a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and Principal Investigator for the Mozambique Canada Maternal Heath Project.