CAPE TOWN: South Africa said farewell on Saturday to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the last great hero of the struggle against apartheid, in a funeral stripped of pomp but freighted with glowing tributes and showered with rain.
Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize, died last Sunday at the age of 90, triggering grief among South Africans and tributes from world leaders for a life spent fighting injustice.
Famous for his modesty, Tutu gave instructions for a simple, no-frills ceremony, with a cheap coffin, donations for charity instead of floral tributes, followed by an eco-friendly cremation
Family, friends, clergy and politicians gathered at Cape Town’s St. George’s Cathedral where, for years, Tutu used the pulpit to rail against a brutal white minority regime. That is where he will be buried.
“We thank you for loving our father,” said Tutu’s daughter Mpho. “Because we shared him with the world, you share part of the love you held for him with us, so we are thankful.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who accorded Tutu a funeral usually reserved for presidents, kicked off the eulogy saying had Tutu been alive, “he would have said hey, ‘why are you looking so grim, so unhappy’ ”.
“While our beloved (Nelson Mandela) was the father of our democracy, Archbishop Tutu was the spiritual father of our new nation.”
His was a life lived honestly and completely. He has left the world a better place. We remember him with a smile,” said Ramaphosa before handing South Africa’s multi-coloured flag to the “chief mourner”, Tutu’s widow, Leah.
The flag — a reminder of Tutu’s description of the post-apartheid country as the “Rainbow Nation”, was the only military rite accorded to him, respecting his request before he died that military protocol be minimal.
The funeral ended South Africa’s week of mourning, during which people filed past a diminutive rope-handled casket made of pine, adorned by a plain bunch of carnations.
At the end of the funeral service, the body was immediately removed from the church.
Under a grey sky and drizzle, among the mourners ushered into the cathedral were ex-Irish president Mary Robinson and Mandela’s widow Graca Machel. Both read out prayers.
Others included the widow of the last apartheid leader FW de Klerk, who died in November, and ex-presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe.
Conspicuously absent was Tutu’s close friend, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who failed to travel due to advanced age and Covid restrictions, according to his representative Ngodup Dorjee.
Tutu’s long-time friend, retired bishop Michael Nuttall, who was Anglican Church dean when Tutu was the archbishop of Cape Town, delivered a sombre sermon.
“Our partnership struck a chord perhaps in the hearts and minds of many people: a dynamic black leader and his white deputy in the dying years of apartheid; and hey presto, the heavens did not collapse,” said Nuttall.
“We were a foretaste… of what could be in our wayward, divided nation.”
Under apartheid, the white minority government cemented its grip with a panoply of laws based on the notion of race and racial segregation, and the police ruthlessly hunted down opponents, killing or jailing them.
With Mandela and other leaders sentenced to decades in prison, Tutu in the 1970s became the emblem of the struggle.
The purple-gowned figure campaigned relentlessly abroad, administering public lashings to the Western world for failing to slap sanctions on the apartheid regime.
At home, from his pulpit, he slammed police violence against blacks. Only his robes saved him from prison and were a shield from police brutality for many protesters.
After apartheid was dismantled and South Africa ushered in the first free elections in 1994, Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.