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The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu. File photo: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS
The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu. File photo: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS

Tributes for Desmond Tutu began to flow soon after his death on Sunday morning, with Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba lauding the clergyman for his moral strength, moral courage and clarity.

Makgoba said in a statement that the church will plan Tutu’s funeral and other memorial services with the support of the government and the City of Cape Town, and they will be held in accordance with Covid-19 regulations.

He said prayer, the scriptures and his ministry to the people God had entrusted to his care were at the heart of Tutu’s life.

“He believed totally that each one of us is made in the image of God and ought to be treated as such by others. This belief was not reached through cerebral contemplation; it arose from his faith and was held with a deeply felt passion. He wanted every human being on earth to experience the freedom, the peace and the joy that all of us could enjoy if we truly respected one another as people created in the image of God.

“Because he believed this, and because he worshipped God, he feared no-one. He named wrong wherever he saw it and by whomever it was committed. He challenged the systems that demeaned humanity. He could unleash a righteous anger on those — especially the powerful — who inflicted suffering upon those the Bible calls ‘the least of these, my brothers (and sisters)’.  And when the perpetrators of evil experienced a true change of heart, he followed the example of his Lord and was willing to forgive.

“Desmond Tutu’s legacy is moral strength, moral courage and clarity. He felt with the people. In public and alone, he cried because he felt people’s pain. And he laughed — no, not just laughed, he cackled with delight when he shared their joy,” Makgoba said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa in announcing the news described Tutu as an iconic spiritual leader, anti-apartheid activist and global human rights campaigner.

“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 SA. 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.

“A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world.

Ramaphosa noted that as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Tutu had articulated the universal outrage against the ravages of apartheid and “touchingly and profoundly” demonstrated the depth of meaning of ubuntu, reconciliation and forgiveness. In the democratic dispensation he had remained true to his convictions and held the leadership and burgeoning institutions to account.

“In his richly inspiring yet challenging life, Desmond Tutu overcame tuberculosis, the brutality of the apartheid security forces and the intransigence of successive apartheid regimes. Neither Casspirs, teargas nor security agents could intimidate him or deter him from his steadfast believe in our liberation.”

The Elders, an international group of independent global leaders working for peace and human rights which was founded by former president Nelson Mandela, expressed sadness at his passing.

Tutu was a member of the group and its first chair from 2007 to 2013.

In a statement The Elders said that Tutu played a vital role in shaping the organisation, its values and its work.

They said they had lost a dear friend, “whose infectious laugh and mischievous sense of humour delighted and charmed them all. The world has lost an inspiration — but one whose achievements will never be forgotten and whose commitment to peace, love and the fundamental equality of all human beings will endure to inspire future generations.”

Chair of The Elders Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland, said: We are all devastated at the loss of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Elders would not be who they are today without his passion, commitment and keen moral compass. He inspired me to be a ‘prisoner of hope’, in his inimitable phrase. Arch was respected around the world for his dedication to justice, equality and freedom. Today we mourn his death but affirm our determination to keep his beliefs alive.”

The Nelson Mandela Foundation said Tutu was an extraordinary human being: a thinker, a leader, a shepherd. “He was larger than life, and for so many in SA and around the world his life has been a blessing. His contributions to struggles against injustice, locally and globally, are matched only by the depth of his thinking about the making of liberatory futures for human societies.”

It noted in a statement that Mandela and Tutu first met at a debating competition in the early 1950s. It would be four decades later before they would meet again, on the day that Mandela was released from prison. From then until Mandela passed away in 2013 they were in regular contact and their friendship deepened over time. “There was a light, almost teasing quality, to their relationship. They relentlessly poked fun at each other’s preferred attire, for instance Mandela wearing his Madiba shirts and the Arch his robes. But they also collaborated on a number of important initiatives,” the foundation said. 

It was Tutu who held aloft Madiba’s hand on the balcony of Cape Town’s City Hall on May 9 1994 and presented him to the assembled throngs as the country’s new “out of the box” president.

As Mandela reflected in that period: “His most characteristic quality is his readiness to take unpopular positions without fear ... He speaks his mind on matters of public morality. As a result, he annoyed many of the leaders of the apartheid system. Nor has he spared those that followed them. 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.”

In 2004 he delivered the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture and used the platform to deliver a stinging critique of the governing party. The thrust of his argument was the extent to which leadership had failed society’s most vulnerable.

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