Mourners pay respects to South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero Tutu

Thabo Makgoba (right), Anglican Archbishop, and Michael Weeder (left), the Dean of St George's Cathedral, stands next to the coffin with the remains of South African anti-apartheid icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu where he will lie in state at St George's Cathedral in Cape Town on Dec 30, 2021. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP)

CAPE TOWN – Hundreds of mourners queued on Thursday to pay their respects to Archbishop Desmond Tutu whose body lay in state at St George's Cathedral in Cape Town where the anti-apartheid hero preached against racial injustice.

Tutu, a Nobel Peace prize winner widely revered across racial and cultural divides for his moral rectitude and principled fight against white minority rule, died on Sunday aged 90. 

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His death represents a huge loss for South Africa, where many called him "Tata" – father. Since Sunday, church bells have been rung every day in his honor and tributes and prayers have poured in from around the world.

Tutu will lie in state at the cathedral on Thursday and Friday, ahead of a requiem mass funeral service on Saturday where President Cyril Ramaphosa was expected to deliver the main eulogy.

"He (Archbishop Desmond Tutu) was always the voice of the voiceless and always the voice of reason," said fellow anti-apartheid activist Chris Nissen, as he waited in line outside the cathedral

"I am basically just here to pay my respects," said Randall Ortel, a medical doctor and one of the first members of the public in line to enter the church. "He is definitely one of my role models and I want to emulate what he has done in his life," he said.

Amanda Mbikwana said she had arrived as early as 5 am (0300 GMT) with her mother and nephews.

"We have known Tata's work, he has stood up for us and we are here today in a free country to give him the honor, to celebrate his life and to support (his wife) Mama Leah and the family," said Mbikwana, a human resources manager.

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A memorial service is held for Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the St. Mary's Cathedral in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec 30, 2021.
(SHIRAAZ MOHAMED/AP)

'The voice of reason'

Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 in recognition of his non-violent opposition to white minority rule. A decade later, he witnessed the end of that regime and chaired a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help unearth state-sponsored atrocities during that era. 

"He was always the voice of the voiceless and always the voice of reason," said fellow anti-apartheid activist Chris Nissen, as he waited in line outside the cathedral.

Tutu's simple pine coffin with rope handles, adorned with a single bunch of white carnations, was carried into St. George's, which provided a safe haven for anti-apartheid activists during the repressive white-minority rule.

People queue to pay their last respect to Archbishop Desmond Tutu as he is laying in state at the St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa, Dec 30, 2021.
(TSVANGIRAYI/MUKWAZHI/AP)

Emotional family members met the coffin outside the entrance, where six black-robed clergies acting as pallbearers carried the closed coffin inside to an inner sanctuary amid a cloud of incense from the Anglican thurible.

Tutu, who requested the cheapest coffin and did not want any lavish funeral expense, will be cremated and his remains interred behind the cathedral pulpit he often used to preach against racial injustice.

In Johannesburg, a memorial service was held at St Mary's Cathedral, where Tutu was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1961 and where he later served as the first Black Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg in 1985. 

An interfaith prayer service was also held in Pretoria, the capital city.