Cape Town, South Africa
Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is remembered at a state funeral on Saturday for his role as Nobel Peace Prize laureate in ending the racially oppressive apartheid regime in South Africa and for standing up for the rights of LGBTQ people.
“When we were in the dark he brought light,” said Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the Anglican world church, in a video message released during a requiem mass celebrated for Tutu at the St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.
“To me, praising him is like a mouse paying homage to an elephant,” Welby said. “South Africa has given us extraordinary examples of towering rulers of the Rainbow Nation with President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu …. The lights of many Nobel Laureates have dimmed with the time, but Archbishop Tutu’s have become brighter. “
Tutu died last Sunday at the age of 90. Her plain pine casket, the cheapest available at her request to avoid ostentatious display, was the center of the service, which also included African choirs, prayers, and incense.
Tutu, who became an Anglican priest in the early 1960s, received the Nobel Prize in 1984 for his non-violent opposition to apartheid. He later became the first black archbishop of Cape Town.
After the advent of democracy in South Africa in 1994, Mandela appointed Tutu as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a body created to report on human rights violations that took place during apartheid.
Throughout his life, Tutu actively promoted equal rights for all and spoke out against corruption and other failures he saw in the South African government, led by the African National Congress party.
“Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been our moral compass and our national conscience,” said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who delivered the eulogy. “Even after the advent of democracy, he did not hesitate to call attention, often harshly, to our shortcomings as leaders of the democratic state.
Ramaphosa presented a national flag to Tutu’s widow, Leah, as she sat in a wheelchair.
The cathedral can accommodate 1,200 worshipers, but only 100 mourners were allowed to attend the funeral due to COVID-19 restrictions.
A few dozen people braved the stormy weather to watch the service on the big screen outside Cape Town’s Town Hall. The municipal government building is where Tutu held his hand in the air with Nelson Mandela on the day in 1990 when Mandela was released after serving 27 years in prison for his opposition to apartheid.
Michael Nuttall, retired Bishop of Natal, delivered the sermon. Nuttall called his relationship with Tutu “an unlikely partnership at a truly critical time in the life of our country from 1989 to 1996, he as Archbishop of Cape Town and I as deputy.” 2 to Tutu.
“Our partnership may have struck a chord in the hearts and minds of many: a vibrant black leader and his white deputy in the last years of apartheid,” Nuttall continued. “And hey, hey, the heavens haven’t collapsed. We were a taste, if you will, of what might be in our wayward and divided nation.”
Two of Tutu’s daughters, Mpho and Nontombi, both ministers of the church, attended the service with former Irish president Mary Robinson and Graca Machel, the widow of two African presidents, Samora Machel of Mozambique and Nelson Mandela.
The cathedral bells rang when Tutu’s casket was taken away after the funeral for private cremation.
In keeping with Tutu’s commitment to the environment, his body will be “aquamed,” a process that uses water to prepare the remains for final disposal. Tutu’s remains are to be buried in the cathedral where his funeral took place.
In the days leading up to the funeral, several thousand people paid tribute to Tutu by placing his coffin in the cathedral and signing condolence books.