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South Africa bids farewell to Desmond Tutu

South Africa is saying goodbye to national hero, anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu.

The funeral service for the world-renowned human rights activist and Anglican archbishop emeritus, who died on Sunday, began at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town early on Saturday.

“If we are to understand a global icon to be someone with great moral stature, of exceptional qualities and service to humanity, there can be no doubt it refers to the man we are laying to rest today,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said during his eulogy.

“Tutu was without question a crusader in the struggle for freedom, justice, equality peace, not only in South Africa … but around the world as well.

“(He was) a humble and brave human being who spoke for the oppressed, the downtrodden and the suffering of the world how fitting is it that his parents named him Mpilo when he was born, meaning life.

“He enriched the lives of all those he met and who got to know him for him, opposing injustice … he never stopped fighting, he never stopped speaking out and he never stopped caring.

“He was a spiritual father of our new nation.

“He has been our moral compass and our national conscience, he has left a formidable legacy and we are diminished by his passing.

“His was a life lived honestly and completely. He has left the world a better place and he has left our country a much better place.”

Since the end of apartheid, Tutu had also championed the fight against climate change, HIV, child marriage and gender discrimination.

Ramaphosa then presented Tutu’s widow, Leah, with South Africa’s six-coloured flag, which inspired Tutu to coin the term “rainbow nation” to describe the peaceful coexistence of South Africa’s many population groups after apartheid.

Tutu’s ashes are later due to be interred in a mausoleum inside the cathedral, from the pulpit of which Tutu preached for many years against the brutality of the apartheid regime.

Famed for his modesty, Tutu was laid to rest in a simple coffin, while the family asked for charitable donations in lieu of flowers.

Mourners at the intentionally simple ceremony were limited to close friends and family, clergy and a few international guests, including King Letsie III from neighbouring Lesotho.

South Africans followed the funeral service live on state television.

The country’s most prominent clergy member died on Sunday at the age of 90, triggering a wave of tributes from around the world for the theologian, who was known for his battles for racial justice and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights.

Many places have honoured him in ceremonies, and the South African flag has flown at half-mast across the country. Church bells throughout South Africa have rung daily in Tutu’s honour since Sunday.

Together with Nelson Mandela, Tutu fought to bring justice to South Africa’s majority black population living under the apartheid regime imposed by the white minority government. After the end of apartheid, Tutu worked for reconciliation between the different ethnic groups in South Africa.

In 1984, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Tutu “for his role as a unifying leader figure in the non-violent campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa.”

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