He left without fuss. Nobel Peace Prize winner, hero of the fight against apartheid and tireless defender of injustice, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 90, wanted it so. No stadium, no farandole of speeches, few flowers. Just a handful of carnations on her little light pine coffin. As cheap as possible, he had demanded. Saturday 1is January, South Africa simply said goodbye to the last of its giants at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Cape Town.
Simply, and almost on the sly against the background of a pandemic. While some countries still apply severe restrictions on trade with South Africa following the discovery of the Omicron variant in the country in November 2021, the King of Lesotho, Letsie III, was the only sitting foreign leader present at the ceremony. Despite the rain of tributes that accompanied the announcement of the archbishop’s death on December 26, 2021, the image offers a stark contrast to the funeral of the other South African giant, Nelson Mandela, which had attracted more of 500 dignitaries from all over the world in 2013.
“Many Nobel Prize winners see their aura diminish over time, his has shone more and more strongly”, However, noted the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, religious leader of the Anglican church to which Desmond Tutu belonged, in a video message broadcast during the ceremony attended by a hundred people, health regulations oblige.
Present alongside former South African heads of state Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, the current president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, summed up the archbishop’s spirit through two images. That of determined activist Desmond Tutu defiant “A police cordon armed to the teeth” during a demonstration against the apartheid regime in Cape Town in 1989 and that of the sensitive peacemaker at the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, bursting into tears while listening to a veteran of the liberation struggle recount, in 1996, the tortures suffered at the hands of the apartheid security services which left him in a wheelchair.
As the South African President pointed out, the Nobel Peace Prize struggles did not end there. Even if the disease had made him more discreet in recent years – he was suffering from cancer – Desmond Tutu simultaneously defended the LGBTQ cause, worked against child marriage, supported the fight against HIV through a foundation, or called to fight climate change. “We cannot continue to feed our addiction to fossil fuels as if there is no tomorrow. Because there will be no tomorrow ”, he wrote in a column in 2014.
“The voice of the voiceless”
“Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and rarely without humor, the voice of Desmond Tutu will always be the voice of the voiceless”, Nelson Mandela summed up. Within the ANC, the party for the liberation of South Africa in power since the fall of apartheid, this voice had nevertheless ended up irritating when it came to denouncing the corruption that plagues the country.
“You are a shame! You behave in a way that is totally at odds with what we stand for ”, he told President Jacob Zuma in 2011, before warning: “I warn you, we will pray, as we prayed for the fall of the apartheid government. We will pray for the fall of a government that misrepresents us. You have a huge majority. It’s nothing. The nationalists had a huge growing majority, they bit the dust. Attention, ANC government. Be careful, be careful, be careful. “
The current Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, then told him to “Go home and shut it down” while President Jacob Zuma advised him to stay in his place and stick to religious matters. In 2013, he was not invited to Nelson Mandela’s funeral by the government. Ten years later, it is this voice that resonates more than the others in South Africa when, as he had predicted, the majority of the ANC has melted: the party has fallen below the 50 mark. % of vote for the first time in its history following the municipal elections in November 2021.
On Friday, December 31, South Africans were invited to gather in front of the archbishop’s coffin in St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. In the queue, Black, White, “Colored” [métisses], united in the image of the “rainbow nation”, as Desmond Tutu had baptized it, greeted in turn “Humility”, “kindness”, “the symbol of resistance”, “tolerance” or from “Reconciliation” embodied by the Nobel Peace Prize. Many also pointed out that they had come so much for “To pay homage” to the Archbishop only to wish their country a better future after the departure of “The one who spoke of the greedy”.
“He has been our moral compass for many years and while we have seen people get lost on their way to the top of the state, he has always been the only one who spoke the truth”, explains Riaz Lachman, who came to meditate with his family. “There is so much corruption in our country, he was one of the last genuinely good people and we need his voice”, said Nicola Tipping, 52, strangled by sobs in front of the giant screen installed in the main square of Cape Town to broadcast the farewell ceremony to the archbishop on Saturday morning.
“All this money stolen by people in power to live obscene lives has brought the country to its knees. I think that’s what made him saddest. For many, nothing has changed, you stop at a red light and you see beggars, tents in the streets. I don’t know how they manage to continue to steal when so many people are living in poverty before their eyes ”, continues this 52-year-old wine merchant.
As a final nod to this fight, Desmond Tutu died the week when the first part of the report of the commission of inquiry on the “state capture” was to be delivered. A bit like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by the Archbishop after the fall of apartheid, for three years, it listened to testimonies detailing the large-scale plundering of state resources, which in particular marked the tenure of Jacob Zuma. The former head of state was personally incriminated by around forty witnesses during the hearings.
The presentation of the report to President Cyril Ramaphosa was postponed for a few days in tribute to the Nobel Peace Prize. What will the Head of State do with it? This is one of the big questions of 2022 for South Africa. Worn out, some already have no illusions. “I stopped believing in politics, confided Shumi Chimombe, a South African in mourning at the exit of Saint-Georges Cathedral, Friday, December 31. We are losing our seniors one by one and it is tragic because no one is there to take over. Tutu was the last of our great men. We are alone. We’ll see what comes next, but for now, it’s over. “
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At the funeral of Desmond Tutu, the tribute of South Africans to their last giant