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‘We looked up to him’: South Africa starts week of mourning for Desmond Tutu

Thousands of South Africans will commemorate each day this week with anti-apartheid icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died on Sunday at the age of 90, as bells ring at churches across the country for 10 minutes at 12 noon.

Tributes to Tutu, described as the “moral compass” of his country, have poured in from around the world since his death in a Cape Town care home, as a series of events commemorating his life and achievements began.

“A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was rooted in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but was also concerned about injustice everywhere,” former US President Barack Obama said in a statement.

The Nobel laureate’s remains will be laid out in state for two days before his funeral takes place on January 1 at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, his former parish. The cathedral’s bells, where his ashes will be interred, will chime in his honor for 10 minutes through Friday. In the coming days, dozens of commemorations will be held across South Africa and flags will be flown at half-mast.

“Every day at noon, the bells will ring in the cathedral and in many cathedrals and churches across the country. In Cape Town, the Angelus prayer will be said,” Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said Monday.

In a country ravaged by deep inequalities, polarized politics and the legacy of the repressive, racist apartheid system, the death of one of the leading figures of the freedom struggle has brought a rare moment of unity.

Members of all communities have stopped at Saint George’s Cathedral since news of Tutu’s death, many have laid flowers under a portrait of the cleric mounted on a memorial wall next to a South African flag, or signed a book of condolences.

Among them was Miriam Mokwadi, a 67-year-old retired nurse, who said the Nobel laureate was “a hero to us, he fought for us”.

“Thanks to him we are liberated. If it hadn’t been for him, we would probably have been lost as a country. He was just good,’ said Mokwadi, holding her granddaughter’s hand.

A woman poses for a photo of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s statue after his death. Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

“His meaning transcends the boundaries of being an Anglican,” said grieving Brent Goliath, who burst into tears outside the old stone building.

He said he had been an acolyte and had met Tutu several times. “I was very emotional this morning when I heard that he had passed away. Thank God he’s been there for us,” he said, wiping his eyes as he placed a bouquet of pink flowers under Tutu’s photo.

Daphney Ramakgopa, 58, a local government employee, spoke about the loss the entire country was feeling. “We looked up to him as the advisor to everyone in the country, especially our politicians,” she said.

South Africa’s cricket team wore black armbands in honor of Tutu on the first day of the first Test against India in South Africa. Cape Town’s Table Mountain was lit purple in his honor.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa called him a man of “extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid”.

South African President Ramaphosa pays tribute to Desmond Tutu in address to nation – video
South African President Ramaphosa pays tribute to Desmond Tutu in address to nation – video

Ramaphosa said Tutu’s death marked “another chapter of grief in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who left us a liberated South Africa,” after FW de Klerk, the last president of the apartheid era, said: died in Nov.

“Fighting for freedom from the trenches of South Africa required a courage beyond description,” said Nelson Mandela’s widow Graça Machel.

Though he had largely disappeared from public life in recent years, Tutu had continued his lifelong struggle for the causes he believed in, strongly supporting LGBT rights, equal access to education and the assisted dying movement.

The charismatic cleric, whose infectious laugh and informality disguised a steely devotion to his principles, had also strongly criticized the ruling party of the African National Congress in South Africa.

Covid regulations currently in force in South Africa would limit funeral attendance to a maximum of 100, church authorities said, explaining that “only a fraction of those who want to be there can be accommodated in the cathedral. ”

The service will be an Anglican Requiem Mass, “as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond wanted”, led by Michael Nuttall, the retired Bishop of Natal, who was known as “Number 2 of Tutu”.

Table Mountain in Cape Town will be lit purple on Sunday in memory of Desmond Tutu.
Table Mountain in Cape Town will be lit purple on Sunday in memory of Desmond Tutu. Photo: AP

The close relationship between Nuttall and Tutu in the 1980s “was an example of how a white leader could work for and closely with a black leader,” Anglican church officials told reporters.

Tutu was born on October 7, 1931, in the small town of Klerksdorp, west of Johannesburg.

His career in the church began after he resigned as a teacher in 1958 in protest against South Africa’s discriminatory laws, a decade after the National Party’s victory in elections ushered in the apartheid system. After studying theology in the UK, where he would needlessly ask directions and was called “Sir” only by white police officers. Tutu rose quickly in the religious hierarchy.

By the late 1970s, Tutu was one of the leaders of the freedom struggle best known abroad and played a leading role in forcing Western leaders to pay the moral costs of cold war calculations that led to tacit support for the rule of the white minority in South Africa.

In 1984, Tutu’s commitment to nonviolent struggle won him the Nobel Peace Prize and shortly afterwards he was appointed Archbishop of Cape Town

When Mandela became president after South Africa’s first free elections in 1994, Tutu coined the term “Rainbow Nation” to describe his homeland and headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which exposed the horrors of apartheid.

But Tutu did not spare his country’s new rulers, challenging Mandela, a close friend, over generous salaries for ministers and fiercely criticizing President Jacob Zuma’s rule, which ended in 2018 amid accusations of systematic defrauding.

Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and underwent repeated treatment. His public appearances became rarer. In one of his last this year, he came out of hospital in a wheelchair to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, waving but without comment.

The Archbishop had been in a weakened condition for several months and died peacefully at 7am (0500 GMT), according to several of his relatives.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation called Tutu “an extraordinary person. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd.”