South Africa Mourns Anti-Apartheid Icon, Desmond Tutu

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South Africa is eulogizing with period of events to mark the passing away of the anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who passed on at 90 on Sunday.

The preparations involved a couple of days of lying in state before an official state funeral on 1 January in Cape Town. Tributes have been pumping in from world leaders around the earth, including Queen Elizabeth II, US President Joe Biden and Pope Francis. Desmond was one of the country’s popular figures at home and away.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement that Tutu had helped bring about “a liberated South Africa”.

An equal of Nelson Mandela, Desmond was crowned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his function in the fight to abolish the apartheid system imposed by the white minority government against the black majority in South Africa from 1948-91.

Yesterday, South Africans stopped by Cape Town’s St George’s Cathedral to present flowers and accord tribute to the nation’s hero. In recognition of Tutu, the bells of the cathedral, the oldest in South Africa, will be run on a daily basis at noon local time until Friday.

“His significance supersedes the boundaries of being an Anglican,” mourner Brent Goliath told AF, breaking down in tears.

“I was very emotional this morning when I heard that he’d passed away. I thank God that he has been there for us,” Mr Goliath said, adding that he had met Tutu several times.

It is impossible to imagine South Africa’s long and tortuous journey to freedom – and beyond – without Archbishop Desmond Tutu.


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While other struggle leaders were killed, or forced into exile, or prison, the diminutive, defiant Anglican priest was there at every stage, exposing the hypocrisy of the apartheid state, comforting its victims, holding the liberation movement to account, and daring Western governments to do more to isolate a white-minority government that he compared, unequivocally, to the Nazis.

When democracy arrived, Tutu used his moral authority to oversee the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that sought to expose the crimes of the white-minority government. Later he turned that same fierce gaze on the failings, in government, of South Africa’s former liberation movement, the ANC.

Many South Africans today will remember Tutu’s personal courage and the clarity of his moral fury.

But as those who knew him best have so often reminded us, Tutu was always, emphatically, the voice of hope. And it is that hope, that optimism, accompanied, so often, by his trademark giggles and cackles, that seems likely to shape the way the world remembers and celebrates, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Known affectionately as The Arch, Tutu was instantly recognisable, with his purple clerical robes, cheery demeanour and almost constant smile.

He was not afraid to show his emotions in public, including memorably laughing and dancing at the opening ceremony of the football World Cup in South Africa in 2010.

Despite his popularity, though, he was not a man who was loved by all. He was very critical of the African National Congress (ANC) government in the post-apartheid era, when, at times, he felt it was misrepresenting South Africa – even warning in 2011 that he would pray for its downfall over a cancelled visit by the Dalai Lama.

In response, the national police commissioner Gen Bheki Cele told Tutu to “go home and shut up”.

“He is not a vice-Jesus Christ,” he said.

Ordained as a priest in 1960, Tutu went on to serve as bishop of Lesotho from 1976-78, assistant bishop of Johannesburg and rector of a parish in Soweto. He became Bishop of Johannesburg in 1985 and was appointed the first black Archbishop of Cape Town the following year. He used his high-profile role to speak out against the oppression of black people in his home country, always saying his motives were religious and not political.

After Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, Tutu was appointed by him to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to investigate crimes committed by both whites and blacks during the apartheid era.

He was also credited with coining the term Rainbow Nation to describe the ethnic mix of post-apartheid South Africa, but in his later years, he expressed regret that the nation had not coalesced in the way in which he had dreamt.

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