South Africa said goodbye to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the last great hero of the struggle against apartheid, on Saturday at a funeral stripped of pomp but laden with tears and drizzled with rain.
Tutu died last Sunday at the age of 90, causing grief among South Africans and tributes from world leaders for a life dedicated to fighting injustice.
Family, friends, clergy and politicians gathered at Cape Town’s St. George’s Cathedral, where, for years, Tutu used the pulpit to criticize a brutal white minority regime. That is where it will be buried.
“We thank you for loving our father … because we share it with the world, you share part of the love you felt with us, so we are grateful,” said Mpho, Tutu’s daughter.
Tutu’s widow, Nomalizo Leah, known as “Mama Leah,” sat in a wheelchair in the front row of the congregation, wrapped in a purple scarf, the color of her husband’s clerical robe.
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the main eulogy for Tutu, who received the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent opposition to the white minority government.
Hundreds of supporters lined up Thursday and Friday to pay their last respects to Tutu as he lay in the cathedral. On Saturday, his simple coffin was brought back to church as Requiem Mass began.
“Only 100 guests were invited to attend the small, private service inside the cathedral,” said Nadine Theron, a correspondent for Jowharin Cape Town, South Africa.
Life-size posters of Tutu, hands clasped, were posted outside the cathedral, where the number of parishioners was restricted in accordance with Covid-19 measures.
South Africa bids farewell to its strongest activist
Famous for his modesty, Tutu gave instructions for a simple and no-frills ceremony, with a cheap casket, donations to charity instead of floral tributes, followed by an ecological cremation.
“The most surprising thing about ‘El Arco’, as the whole country knew it, is that it didn’t matter who was in power. Whether it was against the apartheid government that he fought so loudly against or whether it was Nelson Mandela’s ANC party, he was staunchly critical of anything that smelled of corruption, ”Vivienne Walt, a Time magazine correspondent in Paris, told FRANCE 24.
“In recent years, there has been rampant corruption among the ANC leadership, the leadership in charge of the country. Tutu was never shy about criticizing them and actually said at one point: ‘We will come to a time when the youth of this country will rebel against the ANC just as they did against apartheid,’ ”Walt said. .
Ramaphosa appointed a state funeral, reserved for presidents and very important people, for the late archbishop.
Under a gray sky and a drizzle, the mourners were taken to the cathedral. The rains, according to historian Khaya Ndwandwe “are a blessing” and show that Tutu’s “soul is welcomed” to heaven.
Mourners included close friends and family, clergy and guests, including former Irish President Mary Robinson and Nelson Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, and they both read prayers.
Other mourners were Elita, the widow of the last apartheid leader, FW de Klerk, who died in November.
At the funeral, one of Tutu’s best friends, the Dalai Lama, was notably absent. He was unable to travel due to advanced age and Covid restrictions, his representative Ngodup Dorjee told AFP outside the church.
Tutu’s old friend, retired Bishop Michael Nuttall, who was dean of the Anglican Church when Tutu was the Archbishop of Cape Town, delivered a grim sermon.
“Our association struck a chord perhaps in the hearts and minds of many people: a dynamic black leader and his white deputy in the last years of apartheid; and voila, the heavens did not fall,” said Nuttal.
“We were a foretaste … of what could be in our wayward and divided nation.”
The two forged a strong relationship, illustrating for many how a white leader could work for a black leader. Nuttall went on to write a memoir titled “Tutu’s Number Two” about their friendship.
Under apartheid, South Africa’s white minority cemented its control with a panoply of laws based on the notion of race and racial segregation, and the police ruthlessly persecuted opponents, killing or imprisoning them.
With Nelson Mandela and other leaders sentenced to decades in prison, Tutu in the 1970s became the emblem of the struggle.
The purple-robed figure campaigned relentlessly abroad, administering public lashes at the United States, Britain, Germany and others for failing to impose sanctions on the apartheid regime.
At home, from his pulpit, he attacked blacks with police violence, including the shooting and killing of school students during the 1976 Soweto uprising. Only his robe saved him from prison and was a shield from police brutality for many protesters.
After apartheid was dismantled and South Africa launched the first free elections in 1994, Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which laid out the horrors of the past in grim detail.
Later he would speak out fearlessly against the ruling African National Congress (ANC) for corruption and leadership incompetence.
Tutu’s moral steadfastness and passion went hand in hand with self-deprecating humor and a famous uproarious laugh.
( Jowharwith AFP and REUTERS)