Farewell to «our national conscience» at Toto’s funeral in South Africa

  • Anti-apartheid hero won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984
  • Praised by both blacks and whites in South Africa
  • A giant among us morally and spiritually
  • The cathedral is lit in purple, the color of tutu robes

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – President Cyril Ramaphosa hailed late Archbishop Desmond Tutu as «our moral compass and our national conscience» as South Africa bid farewell to a state funeral on Saturday for the hero of the fight against apartheid.

“Our late father was a fighter in the struggle for freedom, justice, equality and peace, not only in South Africa, the country in which he was born, but throughout the world,” Ramaphosa said, delivering the main eulogy at the service. At St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, where Toto has advocated for years against racial injustice.

The president then handed the national flag to Tutu’s widow, Numalezu Leah, known as «Mama Leah.» Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent opposition to white minority rule, died last Sunday at the age of 90.

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His widow sat in a wheelchair in the front row of congregants, wearing a purple sash, the color of her husband’s clerical robe. Ramaphosa wore a matching tie.

Cape Town, the city in which Toto lived for most of his later life, was inappropriately rainy early on Saturday as mourners gathered to bid farewell to the man known as «The Arch».

The sun was shining brightly after mass as six white-clad clergymen acted as portrait bearers to take the coffin out of the cathedral to a funeral.

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Toto’s body will be cremated and his ashes then buried behind the cathedral’s pulpit in a private ceremony.

Small in stature, he was a moral and spiritual giant among us,” said retired Bishop Michael Nuttall, who had served as Tutu’s vicar for many years.

Life-size posters of Tutu, his hands tied, have been placed outside the cathedral, where the number of worshipers has been restricted in line with COVID-19 measures.

Flowers are laid on the coffin of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu during the state funeral at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa, January 1, 2022. Jaco Marais/Pool via REUTERS

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who leads the global Anglican community, said in a recorded message: “People said ‘when we were in the dark, he brought the light’ and this… lit up countries globally that struggle with fear, conflict, persecution, oppression.”

The Tutu family members were clearly emotional.

His daughter, Reverend Nontumbi Naomi Tutu, thanked well-wishers for their support as mass began, her voice trembling briefly with emotion.

‘rainbow nation’

Revered widely across racial and cultural divisions in South Africa for his moral integrity, Toto never stopped fighting for his vision of a «rainbow nation» where all races in post-apartheid South Africa could live in harmony.

Hundreds of well-wishers lined up Thursday and Friday to pay their last respects while his body was in good condition in the cathedral.

As the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Toto turned St George’s into what is known as the «People’s Cathedral» as a refuge for anti-apartheid activists during the turbulent 1980s and 1990s when security forces brutally suppressed the mass democratic movement.

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A small crowd of about 100 people watched the funeral proceedings on a large screen in the Grand Parade, across from City Hall where Tutu joined Nelson Mandela as he delivered his first speech after his release from prison.

“We have come to pay our last respects to our father Tutu. We love our father, who taught us love, unity and respect for one another,” said Mama Vela, 54, a Rastafarian green, red and yellow for her faith.

Mandela, who became the country’s first post-apartheid president and died in December 2013, once said of his friend: «Sometimes sharp, often gentle, never fearless and rarely without humor, Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of those who don’t.» vote for them.»

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Additional reporting by Nicholas Dlodla

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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