CAPE TOWN (Reuters) -President Cyril Ramaphosa lauded the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu as “our moral compass and national conscience” as South Africa bade farewell at a state funeral on Saturday to a hero of the struggle against apartheid.
“Our departed father was a crusader in the struggle for freedom, for justice, for equality and for peace, not just in South Africa, the country of his birth, but around the world,” Ramaphosa said, delivering the main eulogy at the service in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, where for years Tutu preached against racial injustice.
The president then handed over the national flag to Tutu’s widow, Nomalizo Leah, known as “Mama Leah”. Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1984 for his non-violent opposition to white minority rule, died last Sunday aged 90.
His widow sat in a wheelchair in the front row of the congregation, draped in a purple scarf, the colour of her husband’s clerical robes. Ramaphosa wore a matching necktie.
Cape Town, the city where Tutu lived for most of his later life, was unseasonably rainy early on Saturday as mourners gathered to bid farewell to the man fondly known as “The Arch”.
Life-size posters of Tutu, with his hands clasped, were placed outside the cathedral, where the number of congregants was restricted in line with COVID-19 measures.
Hundreds of well-wishers had queued on Thursday and Friday to pay their last respects to Tutu as he lay in state at the cathedral. On Saturday, his simple coffin was once again wheeled into the church as the requiem Mass got under way.
The choir then gave a resounding rendition of “Great is Thy Faithfullness”.
Tutu was widely revered across South Africa’s racial and cultural divides for his moral integrity. He never stopped fighting for his vision of a “Rainbow Nation” in which all races in post-apartheid South Africa could live in harmony.
Cape Town, the city where Tutu lived for most of his later life, was unseasonably rainy on Saturday as mourners gathered to bid farewell to the man fondly known as “The Arch” and often described as South Africa’s “moral compass”.
As Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Tutu turned St George’s into what is known as a “People’s Cathedral” a refuge for anti-apartheid activists during the turbulent 1980s and 1990s when security forces brutally repressed the mass democratic movement.
His body will be cremated in a private ceremony after the requiem Mass and will then be interred behind the pulpit from where he once denounced bigotry and racial tyranny.
A small crowd of around 100 people followed the funeral proceedings on a big screen at the Grand Parade, opposite City Hall where Tutu joined Nelson Mandela when he gave his first speech after being freed from prison.
Mandela, who became the country’s first post-apartheid president and who died in December 2013, once said of his friend:
“Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour, Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of the voiceless.”Additional reporting by Nqobile Dludla Writing by James Macharia Chege Editing by Frances Kerry