South Africans began saying goodbye to Desmond Tutu on Thursday in a burning chapel with his remains in Cape Town’s St. George Cathedral, the place from where the archbishop fought for years against apartheid.
The simple pine coffin – “The cheapest possible”, he had asked for. Tutu- decorated with white carnations arrived early at his old parish on the shoulders of six Anglican priests, AFP journalists indicated, and will remain there for two days before the funeral planned for Saturday.
Just before the coffin entered the cathedral, the current Archbishop of Cape Town, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, delivered a prayer while others threw incense. Then the tireless human rights defender’s widow, affectionately nicknamed “Mama Leah,” walked slowly behind him into the church.
Since his death on Sunday at the age of 90, world figures such as Pope Francis, his friend the Dalai Lama or heads of state paid tribute to Desmond Tutu, and now it is the turn of South Africans, who see themselves as orphans of a reference.
“We have come to pay tribute to him,” Joan Coulson confided to AFP that, with her sister, she arrived very early in the morning to be among the first to enter the cathedral. “I met him when I was 15, now I’m 70,” he says, comparing Tutu to a rock star, “like Elvis.”
The public will be able to go to the cathedral until 5:00 p.m. local time. Initially scheduled for just one day, the burning chapel was extended to Friday, “for fear of an avalanche,” Reverend Gilmore Fry told AFP.
– No ostentation –
After a private cremation, his ashes will be interred in the former parish of the archbishop, where since Monday the bells ring every noon for ten minutes in his memory.
Since Sunday, hundreds of South Africans have flocked to the cathedral, where a register was set up to leave messages and bouquets of flowers.
The country has decreed seven days of mourning and all flags fly at half mast. In Cape Town, the iconic Table Mountain lights up in purple every night in tribute to the archbishop, who used to wear the purple cassock.
The week has also been marked by numerous ceremonies, mainly religious throughout the country.
There will be no flashy ceremony or lavish spending on Saturday, as Tutu left strict instructions about it. The only bouquet of flowers will be the one offered by the family and assistance will be limited to a hundred people, as a result of the pandemic.
The religious ceremony will also be an official ceremony. At Tutu’s request, the military will limit its intervention to the delivery of a South African flag to his widow Leah, whom he married in 1955 and had four children.
The 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner had retired from public life in recent months, weakened by advanced age and cancer.
Desmond Tutu gained his notoriety in the darkest hours of apartheid, when he led peaceful marches against segregation and to advocate for sanctions against the Pretoria white supremacist regime.
Unlike other militants of his time, his habits saved him from being imprisoned.
After the arrival of democracy in 1994 and the election of his friend Nelson Mandela as president, Desmond Tutu, which gave South Africa the nickname of “Rainbow Nation”, he chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), created with the hope of turning the page on racial hatred.