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Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s ‘spiritual father’, is laid to rest

01 January 2022


Senior clergy in the Province carry Dr Tutu’s coffin out of St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, after the funeral service on Saturday

Senior clergy in the Province carry Dr Tutu’s coffin out of St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, after the funeral service on Saturday

A REQUIEM mass for the former Archbishop of Cape Town and Nobel Prize Laureate, Desmond Mpilo Tutu, was celebrated in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, on the morning of New Year’s Day.

The present Archbishop, Dr Thabo Makgoba, presided at the service, which was conducted multi-lingually in English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa.

Covid restrictions in South Africa meant that only 100 people were able to be present at the funeral (more than 600 had been on the original invitation list). Nevertheless, an estimated 4000 people were able to pay their respects during the two days that Dr Tutu’s body lay in state in the cathedral.

In a video message that was broadcast during the service, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “Desmond Tutu lit up the world.”

Archbishop Welby said that paying tribute to “the Archbishop” was “like a mouse paying tribute to an elephant”.

He reported that, in messages that he had received from around the world, people commented: “When we were in the dark, he brought light, and that light has lit up countries globally that were struggling with fear, conflict, persecution, oppression.

“Where the marginalised suffered, he never ceased to speak prophetically. He never ceased to speak powerfully. He never ceased to shed light.” Whereas the light of many Nobel Peace Prize winners faded with time, “his grew brighter”.

He thanked South Africa for giving the world in the past 30 years “two giant figures that tower over the world, President Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.”

It was a theme taken up by the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa. In his eulogy, he noted that Vilakazi Street in Soweto was the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates had lived.

“Today, 27 years after the advent of our democracy, we can still say with certainty that what we have achieved as a country was nothing short of a miracle,” he said. “We could have chosen the path of retribution, but the project of national reconciliation, of recognising the injustice of our past, set us apart from many societies in transition. Alongside President Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, helped to steer our nation through this very challenging and painful period.

“While our beloved Madiba was the father of our democracy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the spiritual father of our new nation,” the President concluded.

AlamyThe South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, delivers a eulogy

“We think how both of these two icons of our country played different but complementary roles, in forging the nation that we are today. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been our moral compass, but he’s also been our national conscience.”

President Ramaphosa remarked: “Even after the advent of democracy, he did not hesitate to draw attention, often harshly, to our shortcomings as leaders of the democratic state.”

And he said: “If we are to understand a global icon to be someone of great moral stature, of exceptional qualities, and of service to humanity there can be no doubt that it refers to the man we’re laying to rest today.”

Dr Tutu had left instructions for a simple funeral with no gun salute or military presence, as is usual at state funerals. In the end, he received a Category One State Funeral with “religious characteristics”, and the state following the instructions from the Church.

He had chosen the well-known hymns and the preacher, and had instructed that the cheapest and simplest coffin should be bought by his wife, Leah. The Imilonji Kantu choral society, from Johannesburg, was also his choice, leading the singing from an adjacent hall. As his coffin was carried out by episcopal pall-bearers, a recording of the cathedral choir was played: a setting of “Ecce Sacerdos Magnus” — “Behold a great priest.”

The homily was given by the Rt Revd Michael Nuttall, a former Bishop of Natal. Twice — in 1981 and in 1986 — he stood against Dr Tutu for the post of Archbishop of Cape Town. The experience forged a deep friendship between them, and, according to Tutu’s official biographer, John Allen, they promised each other that, whichever one died, the other would bury him.

Bishop Nuttall, now 87, spoke of the years when he had served as “Number Two to Tutu”.

“The nickname stuck, but, more importantly, at a deeper level 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. We were a foretaste, if you like, of what could be in our wayward, divided nation.”

His homily was based on a verse from Micah (6.8): “What does the Lord require of you but to pursue justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

“There were three Ps about our Archbishop; he was the prophet, the pastor and the pray-er. Desmond was quite at ease praying on the telephone with others. Actually, he prayed anywhere and everywhere, not only in churches and chapels.” He recalled how once they had conducted a eucharist at Frankfurt Airport waiting for a flight.

The funeral was attended by two former South African presidents, Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, as well as a representative of the Dalai Lama, whose cause Dr Tutu had championed, and King Letsie III of Lesotho, where Desmond Tutu was bishop from 1976 to 1978.

Benny GoolArchbishop Makgoba inters Dr Tutu’s ashes near the high altar of St George’s Cathedral on Sunday. The Dean, the Very Revd Michael Weeder, and Tutu family members look on

Others in attendance included members of the Elders Group, formed by Nelson Mandela, among them the former Irish president Mary Robinson and Nelson Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel.

After the funeral there was a private family aquamation. Dr Tutu’s remains were interred in the cathedral on Sunday (2 January). A memorial service will be held in London in the next three months, at a date to be confirmed by Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace.


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