Thanks, Nobel Committee. We needed that. With the awarding of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize to Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, the international community has illuminated the struggle of 22 million black South Africans. It has brought a message to the world that it is hoped won't be lost on American voters on Nov. 6 when they get a chance to call the president's hand on his disgraceful stand on South Africa.

The Reagan administration's "constructive engagement" of South Africa has only emboldened South Africa's white supremicist government. That and the new tightening of apartheid's grip by Congress' recent killing of the export control bill rather than banning new bank loans to South Africa had caused some to wonder if traits like honor, decency and valor had been banished like Pretoria's dissidents.

The Nobel Prize has torn away the window dressing built by South Africa's multimillion-dollar propaganda machine and bared Ronald Reagan's role in strengthening a nation that is newly disgraced among the nations of the world.

As I have shared the pride in Tutu's courage and heroism with Washingtonians and people around the world, I am aware that those of us who have never walked Soweto's shameful streets can't fully fathom the magnitude of his bravery. To be a leading voice for nonviolent change within South Africa is to be labeled as subversive each time one speaks. The South African of Council Churches, of which he is general secretary, has been scrutinized by three official inquiries. Tutu has been detained and his passport has been withdrawn repeatedly.

The personal valor of Bishop Tutu may be comparable to that of Poland's Lech Walesa at the height of the Solidarity movement or similar to the late Chief Albert Lithuli, then president of the African National Congress, who won the Nobel Prize in 1960. Today, that organization is banned and pursuing armed underground struggle, yet another indicator that the Pretoria regime brooks opposition only when it suits its own purposes.

It is further a measure of Tutu's courage and conviction that he is fighting with ever greater confidence, taking advantage of the international spotlight to convey a moral and political message about his intransigent government.

South Africa is now on the moral defensive because of this recognition of the black struggle against its racial oppression. It is sad that our country is strengthening apartheid by continued economic investment instead of trying to change the course of apartheid through poltical and economic pressure. Bishop Tutu says, "What we have to say to those who invest in South Africa is that your investment is a moral as well as an economic issue. It is for everyone to speak out -- businessmen, bishops, everybody."

Once, in the midst of one of his deepest battles, another Nobel laureate, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote that "Violence, even in self-defense, creates more problems than it solves." Tutu shares that sentiment, for the prize was as much for his adherence to nonviolence as his stand against apartheid.

But Tutu, familiar with South Africa's siege mentality, has a warning: "This is our last peaceful chance. My fears are the fears of so many that we could very well have a blood bath."

Desmond Tutu represents the last chance for nonviolence in South Africa. If the present trend continues, the people will resort to more violent means.

In one of his many moments of grace, black activist W.E.B. DuBois said that "the stars of black men flash across the sky only to die before the world has rightly gauged their brightness."

Last week, the world finally gauged the brightness of Desmond Tutu's star. The challenge to our government is whether it will aid or continue to thwart the star that Tutu symbolizes: the inexorable course of history that is on the side of South Africa's oppressed majority.