Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s ‘national conscience,’ laid to rest at state funeral

By Joshua Berlinger and Tara John, CNN

Archbishop Desmond Tutu pictured in Cape Town in April 2019.

(CNN) Family, friends and dignitaries gathered for Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s official state funeral on New Year’s Day in Cape Town, capping a week of events honoring a man long considered to be the moral compass of South Africa.

Tutu died last Sunday at the age of 90, sparking a global outpouring of tributes to the anti-apartheid hero. He had been in poor health for several years.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who delivered the main eulogy during the service at St. George’s Cathedral on Saturday, hailed Tutu as “our national conscience.” Tutu’s widow Nomalizo Leah, known as “Mama Leah,” sat in a wheelchair in the front row of the congregation, draped in a purple scarf, the color of her husband’s clerical robes.

For decades, Tutu was one of the primary voices pushing the South African government to end apartheid, the country’s official policy of racial segregation and White minority rule. He won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, before apartheid ended in the early 1990s and the long-imprisoned Nelson Mandela became the nation’s first Black president.

The revered anti-apartheid fighter will be remembered as one of the most important voices of the 20th century. However, his funeral was subdued: Before he died, Tutu asked for a simple service and the cheapest available coffin, according to two of his foundations. Tutu’s funeral was limited to just 100 people, in line with current Covid-19 regulations.

In his address at St. George’s Cathedral, a church famous for its role in the resistance against apartheid, Ramaphosa described Tutu as “a man with a faith as deep as it was abiding,” and “a crusader in the struggle for freedom, for justice, for equality and for peace, not just in South Africa, the country of his birth, but around the world as well.”

“Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been our moral compass and national conscience,” Ramaphosa said. “He saw our country as a ‘rainbow nation’, emerging from the shadow of apartheid, united in its diversity, with freedom and equal rights for all.”

“He embraced all who had ever felt the cold wind of exclusion and they in turn embraced him,” Ramaphosa added, praising Tutu’s advocacy for LGBTQ rights, campaigning against child marriage, and support for the Palestinian cause.

“His was a life lived honestly and completely. He has left the world a better place. We remember him with a smile,” Ramaphosa said.

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