South Africa pays final homage to Desmond Tutu, a 'moral titan'

South Africa bade farewell on Saturday to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the last great hero of the struggle against apartheid, in a funeral without pomp. Tutu had asked for a simple, no-frills ceremony, with a cheap coffin, donations to charity instead of floral tributes, and an eco-friendly cremation.

It was Tutu who popularised the term 'Rainbow Nation' to describe post-apartheid South Africa.
It was Tutu who popularised the term 'Rainbow Nation' to describe post-apartheid South Africa. RODGER BOSCH AFP/File

Desmond 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.

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.

"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 reserved for presidents.

The president handed South Africa's multicoloured flag to Tutu's widow, Leah -- a reminder of her husband's description of the post-apartheid country as the "Rainbow Nation".

A simple pine box

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

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

Conspicously absent from the funeral is one of Tutu's best friends, the Dalai Lama. He was unable to travel because of his advanced age and Covid restrictions.

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

"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".

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Keep up to date with international news by downloading the RFI app