Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and veteran of South Africa's struggle against apartheid, has died aged 90.

His death was announced this morning by the South African presidency.

"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," President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

"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," he said.

"A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world."

Mourners gathered outside his former parish in Cape Town, St George's Cathedral, while others massed at his home, some holding flower bouquets.

President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, saying he will be "forever remembered for his work in drawing global attention to the horrific inequalities of apartheid".

Taoiseach Micheál Martin hailed him as "a tireless campaigner for social justice and reconciliation".

A mourner puts flowers next to a portrait of Desmond Tutu at St George's cathedral in Cape Town today

Ordained at the age of 30 and appointed archbishop in 1986, Desmond Tutu used his position to advocate for international sanctions against apartheid, and later to lobby for rights globally.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and underwent repeated treatment.

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His public appearances become increasingly scarce, and in one of his last this year, he emerged from hospital in a wheelchair to get a Covid vaccine, waving but not offering comment.

He retired in 1996 to lead a harrowing journey into South Africa's brutal past, as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

For 30 months, the commission lifted the lid on the horrors of apartheid.

Tutu, with his instinctive humanity, broke down and sobbed at one of its first hearings.

"He articulated the universal outrage at the ravages of apartheid and touchingly and profoundly demonstrated the depth of meaning of ubuntu, reconciliation and forgiveness," President Ramaphosa said.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation called Tutu "an extraordinary human being. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd."

"He was larger than life, and for so many in South Africa and around the world his life has been a blessing," it said in a statement.

Desmond Tutu at the Brooklyn Chest Hospital in Cape Town last May after getting a Covid vaccine

Tutu was born in the small town of Klerksdorp, west of Johannesburg, on 7 October, 1931, to a domestic worker and a school teacher.

He trained as a teacher before anger at the inferior education system set up for black children prompted him to become a priest.

He lived for a while in Britain, where, he recalled, he would needlessly ask for directions just to be called "Sir" by a white policeman.

Tutu relentlessly challenged the status quo on issues like race, homosexuality and religious doctrine and gave his pioneering support for the assisted dying movement.

And he didn't shy away from his own end.

"I have prepared for my death and have made it clear that I do not wish to be kept alive at all costs," he said in an opinion piece in The Washington Post in 2016.

"I hope I am treated with compassion and allowed to pass on to the next phase of life's journey in the manner of my choice."

Tutu's death came just weeks after F.W de Klerk, South Africa's last apartheid-era president passed away on 11 November.

He famously said that voting in South Africa's first democratic election in 1994 was like "falling in love".

Desmond Mpilo Tutu was considered the nation's conscience by both black and white, an enduring testament to his faith and spirit of reconciliation in a divided nation.

He preached against the tyranny of white minority and even after its end, he never wavered in his fight for a fairer South Africa, calling the black political elite to account with as much feistiness as he had the white Afrikaners.

In his final years, he regretted that his dream of a "Rainbow Nation" had not yet come true.

On the global stage, the human rights activist spoke out across a range of topics, from Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories to gay rights, climate change and assisted death - issues that cemented Tutu's broad appeal.

Just 5ft 5in (1.68 metres) tall and with an infectious giggle, Archbishop Tutu was a moral giant who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his non-violent struggle against apartheid.

He used his high-profile role in the Anglican Church to highlight the plight of black South Africans.

Asked on his retirement as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996 if he had any regrets, Tutu said: "The struggle tended to make one abrasive and more than a touch self-righteous.

"I hope that people will forgive me any hurts I may have caused them."