‘Thank you for loving our father’: Archbishop Desmond Tutu laid to rest

South Africa has bid farewell to Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a funeral stripped of pomp but freighted with tears and showered with rain.

Pallbearers carry the coffin of Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the hearse after the requiem mass of Tutu at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town on 1 January 2022. Picture: AFP

CAPE TOWN - South Africa has bid farewell to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the last great hero of the struggle against apartheid, in a funeral stripped of pomp but freighted with tears and showered with drizzles of rain.

Tutu died last Sunday at the age of 90, triggering grief among South Africans and tributes from world leaders for a life spent fighting injustice.

Famous for his modesty, Tutu gave instructions for a simple, no-frills ceremony, with a cheap coffin, donations for charity instead of floral tributes, followed by an eco-friendly cremation.

Family, friends, clergy and politicians gathered at Cape Town's St. George's Cathedral where, for years, Tutu used the pulpit to rail against a brutal white minority regime. That is where he will be buried.

"We thank you for loving our father ... because we shared him with the world, you share part of the love you held for with us, so we are thankful," said Tutu's daughter, Mpho.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who delivered the eulogy, accorded Tutu a special category funeral, usually designated for presidents and very important people.

READ: Cyril Ramaphosa's full eulogy at the funeral of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

In his eulogy he said Tutu had left a formidable legacy, adding that he had refused to stand down in the face of apartheid and was delivering God’s work.

He said the most fitting tribute we could pay was to take up the cause of social justice for which he tirelessly campaigned throughout his life.

Ramaphosa honoured the Arch by declaring his funeral a Special Official Funeral - Category 1, which normally includes ceremonial elements by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

However, in this case, and based on the Arch’s wishes, the SANDF ceremonial content was limited to the handing over of the national flag to the Tutu family.

WEEK OF MOURNING
South Africa has marked a week of mourning, with several thousand people, filing past a diminutive rope-handled casket made of pine, adorned by a plain bunch of carnations.

Under a grey sky and drizzle, mourners were ushered into the cathedral. Rains, according to historian Khaya Ndwandwe "are a blessing" and show that Tutu's "soul is welcome" to heaven.

Mourners included close friends and family, clergy and guests, including former Irish president Mary Robinson, and Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel - with both reading prayers.

Other mourners were Elita, the widow of the last apartheid leader FW de Klerk, who died in November.

Conspicuously absent from the funeral was one of Tutu's best friends, the Dalai Lama. He failed to travel due to advanced age and COVID restrictions, his representative Ngodup Dorjee, told AFP outside the church.

Tutu's long-time friend, retired bishop Michael Nuttall, who was Anglican Church dean when Tutu was the archbishop of Cape Town, delivered a sombre sermon.

READ: Full sermon of Bishop Michael Nuttall at the funeral of Desmond 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; and hey presto, the heavens did not collapse," said Nuttal.

"We were a foretaste of what could be in our wayward, divided nation".

The two forged a strong relationship, illustrating for many how a white leader could work for a black leader. Nuttall went on write a memoir titled "Tutu's Number Two" about their friendship.

GALLERY: Archbishop Desmond Tutu is laid to rest

South Africa bids farewell to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the last great hero in its struggle against apartheid.

FIGHTER

Under apartheid, South Africa's white minority cemented its grip with a panoply of laws based on the notion of race and racial segregation, and the police ruthlessly hunted down opponents, killing or jailing them.

With Nelson Mandela and other leaders sentenced to decades in prison, Tutu in the 1970s became the emblem of the struggle.

The purple-gowned figure campaigned relentlessly abroad, administering public lashings to the United States, Britain, Germany and others for failing to slap sanctions on the apartheid regime.

At home, from his pulpit, he slammed police violence against blacks, including the gunning down of school students during the 1976 Soweto uprising. Only his robes saved him from prison and were a shield from police brutality for many protesters.

HUMOUR

After apartheid was dismantled and South Africa ushered in the first free elections in 1994, Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which exposed the horrors of the past in grim detail.

He would later speak out fearlessly against the ruling African National Congress (ANC) for corruption and leadership incompetence.

Tutu's moral firmness and passion went together with self-deprecatory humour and a famously cackling laugh.