JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – South Africa on Monday began a week of mourning for the revered anti-apartheid fighter Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The Nobel Peace laureate passed away on Sunday at the age of 90, stripping the world of a towering moral figure and bringing the curtain down on a heroic South African era.
His funeral will be held on New Year’s Day at Cape Town’s St. George’s Cathedral, his former parish, his foundation said, although ceremonies are likely to be muted because of Covid restrictions.
The widow of South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, on Monday mourned “the loss of a brother.”
Tutu “is the last of an extraordinarily outstanding generation of leaders that Africa birthed and gifted to the world”, she said in a statement.
“He masterfully used his position as a cleric to mobilize South Africans, Africans, and the global community against the brutalities and immorality of the apartheid government,” she said.
A memorial service will be held in the capital Pretoria on Wednesday. Family and friends will gather on Thursday evening around Tutu’s widow, “Mama Leah.”
On Friday, his remains will be placed in the cathedral on the eve of the funeral, although attendance for his farewell will be capped at 100, according to the archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba.
Diminutive, crackling with humor and warmth, Tutu will be most remembered for fearlessly speaking against white minority rule, although he campaigned against injustice of any kind.
Ordained at the age of 30 and appointed archbishop in 1986, he used his position to advocate tirelessly for international sanctions against apartheid.
He coined the term “Rainbow Nation” to describe South Africa when Mandela became the country’s first black president in 1994.
He retired in 1996 to lead a harrowing journey into South Africa’s past as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which exposed the horrors of apartheid in terrible detail.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his central role in the fight against apartheid, but his combat against injustice long continued after racial segregation was consigned to the history books.
He excoriated the African National Congress (ANC) for fostering cronyism, corruption and incompetence after it was voted into office.
The archbishop had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and repeatedly underwent treatment.
He had been in a weakened state for several months and died peacefully at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) on Sunday, according to several of his relatives interviewed by AFP.