South Africa begins week of events mourning death of anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu

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Dec. 27 (UPI) — South Africa has started a week of events mourning the death of Desmond Tutu, the theologian and human rights activist who died Sunday in Cape Town.

The funeral for Tutu, who had served as an archbishop in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, will be held on Saturday at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation announced in a statement posted to Facebook.

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His funeral, an Anglican Requiem Mass as desired by Tutu, will be officiated by Bishop Michael Nuttall and live streamed for the public due to COVID-19 restrictions. The renowned Johannesburg choir Imilonji ka Ntu, beloved by Tutu, will perform during the mass.

Before the funeral, Tutu’s body will lie in state at the cathedral starting Friday for members of the public to pay their respects, though attendance will be limited to 200 people.

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“Father Desmond was our moral true north. He personified Ubuntu and was always love affirming with everybody he met along the path of life,” Very Reverend Michael Weeder, dean of Cape Town, wrote on the Facebook page for St. George’s Cathedral.

The cathedral noted that bells will ring at noon each day at the cathedral and churches “across the land” to honor Tutu, a Nobel Peace Laureate who worked working tirelessly to bring South Africa to peace and end apartheid.

Tutu once headed the South African Council of Churches, emphasizing non-violent means of protest throughout anti-apartheid movements in the 1980s and encouraging other countries to introduce economic sanctions against the country unless apartheid was lifted.

When apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president, Tutu was named as chair of the newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission — a massive, televised inquiry listening to testimony from victims of human rights abuses to seek restorative justice.

“His most characteristic quality is his readiness to take unpopular positions without fear … He speaks his mind on matters of public morality,” Mandela had once described Tutu, as noted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation in a statement.

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Then, Mandela noted that Tutu didn’t hold criticism of both leaders in the apartheid system and the African National Congress political party, which opposed apartheid.

“He has from time to time annoyed many of us who belong to the new order. But such independence of mind — however wrong and unstrategic it may at times be — is vital to a thriving democracy,” Mandela had said.

Tutu also coined the term “Rainbow Nation” used for describing the country after Mandela became president in 1994. The pair met for the second time the day Mandela was released from prison, nearly 40 years after first meeting at a debating competition in the 1950s.

“The loss of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu is immeasurable,” the Mandela Foundation wrote in its statement. “For so many in South Africa and around the world his life has been a blessing.”

Tutu’s death was announced Sunday by South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, who called Tutu a “patriot without equal.”

“The passing of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans who have bequeathed us a liberated South Africa,” Ramaphosa tweeted.

“Desmond Tutu was a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead. We pray that Archbishop Tutu’s soul will rest in peace but that his spirit will stand sentry over the future of our nation.”

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Oakland Raiders Hall of Fame coach John Madden stands with his bust during halftime ceremonies as the Raiders play the Denver Broncos in Oakland, Calif., on December 6, 2012. Madden died December 28. He was 85. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo