South Africa’s Cape Town celebrates a musical and interfaith tribute to Desmond Tutu

An interfaith musical memorial to South Africa’s revered anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu had a rabbi and monk dancing in their seats Wednesday as Cape Town said goodbye to its first black Anglican archbishop.

The colorful City Hall service to Tutu, who died over the weekend, was attended by members of his family and politicians, many dressed in purple in honor of the famous purple robe of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

The event peaked when South African singer Zolani Mahola, who became an unofficial anthem for the fight against apartheid, topped the charts in 1980.

Tutu died peacefully in a care facility on Sunday, just three months after his 90th birthday, prompting tributes to pour in from around the world.

Before his funeral on Saturday, numerous events are taking place in South Africa to remember the enemy of apartheid and the stalwart of the liberation struggle, who was also an outspoken critic of human rights abuses around the world.

He coined the phrase “Rainbow Nation” at the advent of South Africa’s democracy, and that ideal was on full display at the memorial Wednesday night.

Despite the limited numbers due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there was much pomp and ceremony at the event, with music from the South African Youth Choir and guitarist Jonathan Butler, among others.

The Grammy-nominated Cape Town-born Butler, who flew in from Los Angeles and whose music was popular during the apartheid struggle, had some in the audience, including a rabbi and a Buddhist monk, dancing in their seats.

‘We will pick up your baton’

Prayers were offered from Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, traditional African and Muslim leaders.

The indigenous Khoisan, dressed in furs and holding up an animal skull, also paid tribute to Tutu.

Throughout the week, Cape Town’s famous Table Mountain and the City Hall building glow purple at night, also in honor of Tutu robes.

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis told AFP that the color had darker historical relevance because during the years of white minority rule in the 1980s, police often sprayed protesters at pro-democracy with water cannons and purple tint to make them easier to identify and arrest.

“Most of his ministry was spent under oppression, harassed and harassed,” Hill-Lewis said at the memorial service.

“In the last years in which our fragile democracy suffered one coup after another institutional, he was there bringing reproaches.”

Cheryl Carolus, a veteran anti-apartheid member of the ruling ANC party who attended the event, called on South Africans to keep fighting for a better democracy.

“Freedom is not a spectator sport, it has to be practical … Tata, we’ll pick up your baton,” he said, using the nickname Tutu.

“We are thankful for having 90 years of our father, almost against all odds,” said Carolus.

“We know that he was not well in recent times, that he himself was ready to go and that he left us alone.”

On Thursday, the coffin with Tutu’s remains will be carried in procession to Cape Town’s St. George’s Cathedral, where he once demonstrated against the white minority government.

There it will remain in state for two days for the public to say goodbye before a private cremation.

His ashes will eventually be buried inside the church, where the bells have been tolling for 10 minutes at noon in his memory since Monday.


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