Hundreds of mourners queued Thursday to pay their respects to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose body lies 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 Sunday at the age of 90.
His death represents a huge loss for South Africa, where many called him as “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 Thursday and Friday, ahead of a requiem Mass funeral service Saturday where President Cyril Ramaphosa was expected to deliver the main eulogy.
“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 a.m. (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.
‘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.
Emotional family members met the coffin outside the entrance, where six black-robed clergy acting as pall bearers 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 also was held in Pretoria.