Abbey’s colourful tribute to Mandela
Tim Wyatt joined royalty, politicians, church
leaders, and past campaigners at Nelson Mandela's Westminster Abbey
THE rain sweeping down outside Westminster Abbey reminded the
worshippers at Nelson Mandela's memorial service on Monday that
they were in England.
But the Soweto Gospel Choir, a clapping, swaying splash of
colour and harmony contrasting with the rows of sombre suits,
helped to convince the congregation that they were celebrating the
life of an African. Besides South African classics, the choir sang
versions of "This Little Light of Mine" and "One Love" by Bob
The mood of the service was less of sadness than of fond
The address was given by Dr Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of
Cape Town. His pre-eminent theme was of gratitude - to
anti-apartheid campaigners in Britain, and to God for giving South
Africa and the world Mr Mandela, who died in December.
Dr Tutu made special mention of Trevor Huddleston CR, a parish
priest in Sophiatown and later Bishop of Stepney, who led
opposition to apartheid in South Africa and back in England.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Dr Tutu said. "How we wish
you could open our hearts and see the depth of our gratitude.
Without the anti-apartheid movement and all of you extraordinary
human beings, Madiba [Mr Mandela's clan name] would surely have
died in prison."
Mr Mandela, he said, was the reason why South Africa had not
descended into bloody racial war after black-majority rule was
established in 1994. "It was because he, who had spent 27 years in
jail, came out transformed from the angry, militant young man to
the magnanimous leader who believed that every single one of us has
the capacity to be great," Dr Tutu said.
"Each one of us has the capacity to be magnanimous and to be
forgiving and generous."
Other tributes were led by the Deputy President of South Africa,
Kgalema Motlanthe, and the Labour MP Peter Hain, a veteran of the
anti-apartheid movement. Mr Hain recalled how Mr Mandela's first
name had been given him by British missionaries. His original name,
Rolihlahla - which means "troublemaker" in colloquial Xhosa - might
have been more suited to the genially impudent boy who became an
activist, then prisoner, then president, Mr Hain suggested.
"Thousands of British citizens supported his fight for freedom,
including courageous bishops who led from the pulpit and on the
street. Nelson Mandela was perhaps the international icon of his
time. There will never be another like Nelson Mandela."
Prince Harry was present, and David Cameron, Ed Miliband, and
Nick Clegg sat side by side.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York closed the service in
prayer, and thanksgiving to God for Mr Mandela's "inspiration, for
his humour, and his passionate leadership". The service closed with
Huddleston's "Prayer for Africa".