Cape Town, 1 Jan 2022 (AFP) — A requiem mass for Desmond Tutu at Cape Town’s Anglican Cathedral, where he tirelessly preached against the racist apartheid regime, allowed his family and all South Africans to say goodbye this Saturday (1) of your beloved Archbishop for the last time.
Under a gray sky and a light drizzle, family, friends, but also the widow of the country’s last white president, FW de Klerk, and many churchmen, arrived at the temple this morning for the funeral of the priest, who died at age 90.
“Dad would say the love everyone has shown (this week) is comforting,” his daughter Mpho told attendees. “We appreciate you loving him so much.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to give the funeral eulogy after communion and present Tutu’s widow, “Mama Leah,” as South Africans affectionately call her, a national flag.
Indeed, the Archbishop, who died on December 26 and affectionately nicknamed ‘The Arch’, wanted a simple ceremony and had described in detail the Mass he desired.
The coffin in which he remained in the Cathedral of São Jorge for the previous two days, so that thousands of people could come and pay homage to his memory, was made of pale pine. He had asked for it “as cheaply as possible” in a country where funerals are often a display of opulence.
Without gold handles, it has simple pieces of rope to carry it, resembling the belt of Franciscan friars, with a bouquet of white carnations on top.
Archbishop Tutu didn’t want any other flowers in the church.
A close friend, former Bishop Michael Nuttall, was chosen by the deceased to deliver the sermon. When Tutu was Archbishop, Nuttall was his “number two”.
Their relationship “no doubt touched a sensitive vein in the hearts and minds of many: a dynamic black leader and his white deputy in the last years of apartheid was no small feat,” he recalled at the altar. “We were an example of what our divided country could be.”
He also recalled that Nelson Mandela described Tutu as “the voice of the voiceless”, a voice “sometimes shrill, often tender, never frightened and rarely humorless”.
Close friends were present, such as former Irish President Mary Robinson and Nelson Mandela’s widow Graça Machel – both spoke at mass – Letsie III, the king of neighboring Lesotho, as well as a representative of the Dalai Lama, who was unable to attend due to his advanced age and covid restrictions.
“Their friendship was unique,” Ngodup Dorjee told AFP. “Whenever they met, they laughed. The only explanation is a karmic connection in the past,” he added.
The week was marked by tributes to Archbishop Tutu across the country and abroad. South Africans recalled their tenacity in the face of the oppressive regime in Pretoria.
Gradually, he became the voice of Nelson Mandela, imprisoned on Robben Island. The police and army threatened him. Only his cassock saved him from prison.
“They wanted him dead, but for some reason we can’t explain, it never happened. He would enter the church, say Mass and leave,” 47-year-old Mathabo Dlwathi told AFP.
During the demonstrations, “it was a shield for us,” recalls Panyaza Lesufi, now a high-ranking official in the ANC, a historic party that remains in power.
Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel, spoke of the “indescribable courage” needed to stand up to the regime.
For his funeral, Pastor Tutu chose, for his last message, the passage from the Gospel according to John in which Jesus addresses his disciples after the Last Supper. A message of love.
“My command is this: Love one another as I have loved you.”