Cape Town – Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Friday said he did not fight for justice his entire life because he wanted an award, but because it had to be done.
After he and his wife Leah had received an award for their commitment to social justice, he told journalists he could not help but act where needed.
"Even when the consequences of speaking up are as dire as they used to be under the apartheid system, you say 'Tough luck, I have to speak or I will die'".
"[Otherwise] I will maybe still be alive physically, but I will not be alive in my spirit."
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town presented the Award for Peace with Justice to the elderly couple in a service at St George’s Cathedral at 07:00.
At 84, Tutu’s age was visible in his slow shuffle to the altar and the time he took to sit and rise from his seat during the service.
Tutu said afterwards that they were both very humbled. He thanked his dark complexion for hiding his blushing.
"I hope that it can help to inspire others to know that even when it seems that no one is noticing, yet yes, people notice and people appreciate you."
He thanked Magkoba, his successor, for the initiative.
Previous recipients of the award include Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda.
Makgoba said that, with a Bible verse in mind, he had looked at the principles and values of service to humanity, loving God, and walking humbly.
"There is no one better than the Tutus to be honoured in that way and indeed it is the church that is privileged and honoured to have bestowed this award upon them," Makgoba said.
City workers had filed into the cathedral before the sun was even up.
Tutu personally acknowledged first time visitors to the church, who turned out to be from all corners of the globe. Most were from Europe and North America.
A gaggle of singing schoolgirls in uniform did not miss out on the opportunity to have a selfie taken with Tutu.