CAPE TOWN— South Africa on Saturday held a state funeral for Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the last great hero of the struggle against apartheid, that was stripped of pomp but rich in glowing tributes.
Tutu died last Sunday, aged 90, triggering grief at home and abroad for a life spent fighting injustice.
Famous for his modesty, Tutu gave instructions for a simple, no-frills ceremony, with a cheap coffin, followed by an eco-friendly cremation.
Family, friends, clergy and politicians gathered at Cape Town’s St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, which was illuminated in purple, the colour of his clerical robes.
It was there where Tutu used the pulpit to rail against a brutal white-minority regime and it’s there he will be buried.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who accorded Tutu the official funeral usually reserved for presidents, described the ceremony as “category-one funeral with religious characteristic”.
“Our departed father was a crusader in the struggle for freedom, for justice, for equality and for peace, not just in South Africa… but around the world as well,” said Ramaphosa.
“While our beloved (Nelson Mandela) was the father of our democracy, Archbishop Tutu was the spiritual father of our new nation”, lauding him as “our moral compass and national conscience”.
“His was a life lived honestly and completely. He has left the world a better place. We remember him with a smile,” said Ramaphosa before handing South Africa’s multicoloured flag to the “chief mourner”, Tutu’s widow, Leah.
The flag — a reminder of Tutu’s description of the post-apartheid country as the “Rainbow Nation”, was the only military rite accorded to him, respecting his request before he died that military protocol be minimal.
The funeral ended South Africa’s week of mourning, with the diminutive rope-handled pinewood coffin, adorned by a small bunch of carnations, immediately removed from the church by vicars in cream robes.
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 and Germany and other countries 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.
After apartheid was dismantled and South Africa ushered in its 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.
Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK