South Africa and the world mourn the passing of a prince of peace

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  • Desmond Tutu
    Desmond Tutu
    South African churchman, politician, archbishop, Nobel Prize winner (1931–2021)

South Africa on Monday began a week of mourning for the revered anti-apartheid fighter and Nobel Peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His funeral will be held on New Year's Day at Cape Town's St. George's Cathedral, although ceremonies are likely to be muted because of Covid restrictions.

Flags in South Africa are flying at half-mast to mark the seven-day mourning period in honour of the cleric.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu died at a nursing home in Cape Town on 26 December at the age of 90. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and, according to his relatives, has been in a weakened state for several months.

“In the days to come we will mourn this global icon of peace and freedom,” said South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa.

A series of events have been arranged to celebrate the life of the man fondly known as “The Arch”.

The Anglican Church has announced that Tutu will lie in state at his former parish, St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.

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 mobilise South Africans, Africans, and the global community against the brutalities and immorality of the apartheid government," she said.

"He stood resolute and fearless, leading demonstrations cloaked in his flowing clerical robe with his cross as his shield -- the embodiment of humankind's moral conscience."

Bells peal at People's Cathedral

Born near Johannesburg, the 1984 Nobel prize winner led numerous campaigns and marches against apartheid from St George's steps. The building became known as the "People's Cathedral".

The bells St George's Cathedral will toll for 10 minutes a day every day at noon until 31 December.

The Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, asked all who hear the bells to pause their busy schedules for a moment to pay tribute to Tutu's life and work.

The church has appealed to members of the public to attend services in their local churches and has discouraged voyages to Cape Town for the funeral, where numbers will be restricted in accordance with Covid-19 protocols.

The Diocese of Pretoria and the South African Council of Churches will hold a memorial service in the capital city on 29 December.

On the evening of 30 December, the Archbishop Tutu Intellectual Property Trust and the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation will host an intimate evening with friends of the Tutus.

On 31 December, Tutu will lie in state at St George's ahead of his funeral service on Saturday 1 January, to be led by Archbishop Makgoba.

Death of “a prophet”

“Tutu was a living embodiment of faith in action”, according to a statement from the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.

It said he was a priest who spoke boldly against racism, injustice, corruption and oppression. It added: "Not only in South Africa but wherever in the world he saw wrongdoing.”

Having officially retired from public life on his 79th birthday, Tutu continued to speak out on a range of moral issues, including accusing western governments in 2008 of complicity in Palestinian suffering by remaining silent.

"Father Desmond Tutu was one of the biggest supporters of the Palestinian cause. He had always advocated the rights of the Palestinians to gain their freedom and rejected Israeli occupation and apartheid,” said Wasel Abu Youssef, member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Queen remembers a man of warmth

England's Queen Elisabeth II said she was deeply saddened by the news of Tutu’s death. “I remember with fondness my meetings with him and his great warmth and humour,” added the British monarch.

Former US president Barack Obama, said Tutu was a mentor, a friend, and a moral compass.

“He never lost his impish sense of humour and willingness to find humanity in his adversaries,” Obama added.

Tutu was "a towering global figure for peace and an inspiration to generations across the world," said UN chief Antonio Guterres.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Anglican Church, hailed Tutu as a prophet. "He embodied the hope and joy that were the foundations of his life.”

The book of joy, lasting happiness in a changing world, published in 2016, was the result of a week Tutu spent in Dharamsala in April 2015 at the Dalai Lama’s home to answer a single question: how do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?

Upon hearing the news of the demise of his “spiritual brother”, the Dalai Lama wrote to the daughter of Tutu, Reverend Mpho Tutu: “Your father and I enjoyed an enduring friendship … With his passing away, we have lost a great man, who lived a truly meaningful life.

"I am convinced the best tribute we can pay him and keep his spirit alive is to do as he did and constantly look to see how we too can be of help to others.”

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