With a simple funeral, South Africa bids farewell to Desmond Tutu

CAPE TOWN – In a nearly empty cathedral, with an unvarnished coffin with a rope handle placed in front of the altar, South Africa bid fa...


CAPE TOWN – In a nearly empty cathedral, with an unvarnished coffin with a rope handle placed in front of the altar, South Africa bid farewell to Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu on Saturday with the simplicity he had expected .

Death of Archbishop Tutu last Sunday at 90 was followed by a week of mourning, like the world has remembered its powerful role both in opposing apartheid and in promoting unity and reconciliation after its defeat.

But his funeral in a rain-drenched Cape Town, where pandemic regulations limited attendance to 100 and discouraged crowds outside, were far more subdued than the crowded stadiums and parade of dignitaries who mourned the other South African Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nelson Mandela. It was exactly what the Archbishop had wanted.

A hymn sung in his native language, Setswana; Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum”; and a sermon delivered by an old friend were all part of what Archbishop Tutu designed for his Requiem Mass, celebrated at St. George’s Cathedral. There would be no official speeches beyond the eulogy, and the only authorized military presence at the funeral of a man who once said: “I am a man of peace, but not a pacifist”, arose when an officer brought the national flag of South Africa to be handed over to his widow, Nomalizo Leah Tutu.

The coronavirus pandemic has further reduced procedures. With a limited guest list, the only international heads of state in attendance had a close relationship with the Archbishop, such as King Letsie III of Lesotho, who spent time with the Tutu family as a child in a boarding school in England. Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, read one of the prayers during Requiem Mass. With singing discouraged in enclosed spaces to reduce the spread of the virus, the choir performed in an adjacent hall.

“Desmond was not on a crusade of personal aggrandizement or selfishness,” said sermon-delivering friend Michael Nuttall, who as Bishop of Natal in the 1980s and 1990s became known under the name of “Tutu’s No. 2”. He described their relationship, as the first black archbishop of Cape Town and his white deputy, as a forerunner “of what might be in our wayward and divided nation.”

Archbishop Tutu “loved to be loved,” however, Bishop Nuttall recalls, and it was the lasting image of the little man in flowing office robes: a dynamic leader who joked and scolded with equal enthusiasm.

The militant Archbishop was at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid. Outside South Africa, he campaigned for international sanctions as he preached about the injustices suffered by black South Africans under the segregationist regime. At home, he presided over dozens of funerals of young activists killed as the country’s townships looked like a war zone in the last years of apartheid.

After the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, he headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and dubbed the “new” South Africa the “Rainbow Nation” as he attempted to guide its citizens to national healing. . In the nearly three decades since the end of apartheid, he continued to speak out against the corruption and inequalities that marred that ideal.

“When he first spoke of us as a ‘rainbow nation’ South Africa was a different place and was going through a very difficult time,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his eulogy . “He passed away at another difficult time in the life of our nation. “

In the week leading up to the funeral, those close to Archbishop Tutu said as he grew increasingly fragile, they saw a man plagued by continuing social and economic inequalities. in South Africa. Over the past two years, the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns have further deepened poverty, pushing unemployment to record levels.

Under Covid-19 restrictions, at a public viewing site erected on the Grand Parade, Cape Town’s main public square, barely 100 people gathered to watch the service on the big screen. Those who braved the rain said they wanted to say goodbye to a “big man,” like Laurence and Joslyn Vlotman, who brought an umbrella and a small camp stool. But many, like Meg Jordi, were sitting on the floor.

Michael Jatto, a British national on vacation in South Africa from England, took his two daughters to the square to learn more about the Archbishop – “for us as Africans, for our children to see a great man in a positive light “.

For many South Africans who attended Christian and interfaith services in the days leading up to the funeral, there was a collective feeling that South Africa had lost its moral compass. Some, however, found hope in the renewed attention to Archbishop Tutu’s life and legacy.

“I think we won in the way the country, the government, the church magnified it and supported it,” said Nikki Lomba, who watched behind a fence with her mother, Brita Lomba, the Archbishop’s coffin driven into a hearse. “I think we gained more hope and, at a crucial time, learned a lot when he passed away.”

Zanele Mji contributed reports.

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Newsrust - US Top News: With a simple funeral, South Africa bids farewell to Desmond Tutu
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