Desmond Tutu’s funeral service was a blend of Requiem Mass and joyous African voices.
The funeral of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning anti-apartheid and LGBT rights activist took place in South Africa, following his death on Boxing Day at the age of 90.
Archbishop Tutu’s small plain pine coffin, the cheapest available at his request to avoid any ostentatious displays, was the center of the service in Cape Town, which featured tributes. choirs, prayers and incense.
DCO Global News
Published on January 2, 2022
By Odoh Dominic Chukwuemeka
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the eulogy at the service at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.
He described the Archbishop as “without question a crusader in the struggle for freedom, for justice, for equality and for peace. Not only in South Africa, the country of his birth, but around the world as well”.
Mr Ramaphosa added: “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 are laying to rest today.”
Desmond Tutu requested the cheapest coffin available to avoid any ostentatious displays.
The Archbishop of Canterbury appeared in a video message at the requiem Mass celebrated in Mr Tutu’s honour, in which said: “When we were in the dark, he brought light…
“For me to praise him is like a mouse giving tribute to an elephant,” Justin Welby said.
“South Africa has given us extraordinary examples of towering leaders of the rainbow nation with President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu…. Many Nobel winners’ lights have grown dimmer over time, but Archbishop Tutu’s has grown brighter.”
The cathedral can hold 1,200 worshippers, but only 100 mourners were allowed to attend the funeral due to Covid-19 restrictions.
A few dozen people braved stormy weather to watch the service on a large screen in front of Cape Town City Hall – the municipal government where Tutu held hands aloft with Nelson Mandela on the day in 1990 when Mandela was released after serving 27 years in prison because of his opposition to apartheid.
Michael Nuttall, the retired bishop of Natal, delivered the sermon.
Bishop Nuttall called his relationship with Archbishop Tutu “an unlikely partnership at a truly critical time in the life of our country from 1989 through 1996, he as archbishop of Cape Town and I as his deputy”.
With humour, he described himself as “number two to Tutu.”
“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,” Mr Nuttall continued.
“And hey, presto, the heavens did not collapse. We were a foretaste, if you like, of what could be in our wayward, divided nation.”
Two of Archbishop Tutu’s daughters, Mpho and Nontombi, both church ministers, participated in the service along with former Irish President Mary Robinson and Graca Machel, the widow of two African presidents, Samora Machel of Mozambique and Nelson Mandela.
The cathedral’s bells rang as Tutu’s casket was taken away after the funeral for a private cremation.
In keeping with Tutu’s commitment to the environment, his body will be “aquamated,” a process that uses water to prepare remains for final disposition. Tutu’s remains are to be interred at the cathedral where his funeral was held.
In the days before the funeral, several thousand people paid their respects to Tutu by filing by his casket in the cathedral and signing condolence books.
Archbishop Tutu had been hospitalised several times since 2015, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997.
In recent years he and his wife lived in a retirement community outside Cape Town.
Throughout the 1980s – when South Africa was gripped by anti-apartheid violence and a state of emergency giving police and the military sweeping powers – Tutu was one of the most prominent black people able to speak out against abuses.
A lively wit lightened Tutu’s hard-hitting messages and warmed otherwise grim protests, funerals and marches.
The Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 highlighted his stature as one of the world’s most effective champions for human rights, a responsibility he took seriously for the rest of his life.
With the end of apartheid and South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, Tutu celebrated the country’s multi-racial society, calling it a “rainbow nation,” a phrase that captured the heady optimism of the moment.
Nicknamed “the Arch,” Tutu was diminutive, with an impish sense of humor, but became a towering figure in his nation’s history, comparable to fellow Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela, a prisoner during white rule who became South Africa’s first Black president.
Tutu and Mandela shared a commitment to building a better, more equal South Africa.
In 1990, after 27 years in prison, Mandela spent his first night of freedom at Tutu’s residence in Cape Town. Later, Mandela called Tutu “the people’s archbishop.”
Upon becoming president in 1994, Mandela appointed Tutu to be chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which uncovered the abuses of the apartheid system.
Tutu campaigned internationally for human rights, especially LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.
“I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this,” he said in 2013, launching a campaign for LGBT rights in Cape Town.
“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say, ‘Sorry, I would much rather go to the other place.’”
Tutu said he was “as passionate about this campaign (for LGBT rights) as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level.”
He was one of the most prominent religious leaders to advocate LGBT rights. Tutu’s very public stance for LGBT rights put him at odds with many in South Africa and across the continent as well as within the Anglican church.
In July 2015, Tutu renewed his 1955 wedding vows with wife Leah. The Tutus’ four children and other relatives surrounded the elderly couple in a church ceremony.
“You can see that we followed the biblical injunction: we multiplied and we’re fruitful,” Tutu told the congregation.
“But all of us here want to say thank you… We knew that without you, we are nothing.”
Asked once how he wanted to be remembered, he said: “He loved. He laughed. He cried. He was forgiven. He forgave. Greatly privileged.”
‘He wore his heart on his sleeve,’ Lord Peter Hain paid tribute to Desmond Tutu
Anti-apartheid campaigner Lord Peter Hain described Archbishop Tutu as “one of the most special people I ever had the privilege to meet”.
He continued: “What epitomised Desmond Tutu was first of all receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, then when asked why he got it, he said: because i have a short name Tutu, a long nose and sexy legs.”
Lord Hain also recalled Archbishop Tutu’s “infectious giggling”, and said: “He wore his heart on his sleeve.
“He cried, he laughed, he pulled people’s legs, and he pulled his own legs absolutely relentlessly, and that’s why he was so widely loved.”
Speaking about the time Nelson Mandela was locked up, he said: “Desmond Tutu, as a global Christian leader, could not be silenced in the way the brutal apartheid state would silence everyone else.
“He was strong, he was unflinching, he was passionate and he appealed to people because of his integrity.
“He would tell it as it was, however uncomfortable it was for those in power or even sometimes those on his own side that strayed from the principles of the freedom, struggle and justice and humans rights and equal opportunity.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu: The resolute and tireless campaigner against injustice
Desmond Tutu wanted epitaph to say ‘loved, laughed, cried’, says friend.
No fanfare, no pomp or ceremony. No flowers. No military parade. A simple pine coffin for a humble man. His funeral reflects his authentic life, morally exceptional, honest yet direct. He was in service of his country and humanity his entire life. Farewell Desmond Tutu.
By Odoh Dominic Chukwuemeka
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