Cape Town - Hundreds of mourners from all walks of life braved a steady morning drizzle in the Cape Town CBD to pay their last respects to the late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu as his body lay in state at St George’s Cathedral before the funeral on Saturday.
For many of them, filing past the simple wooden casket was a personal pilgrimage in tribute to a man they admired and loved.
Capetonian Bradley Hermans said: “He’s the last of the great giants and I am fortunate enough to live in the province that he resided in. I saw it as both a blessing and an honour to be here, and I had said that come rain or shine I was going to be here.”
From Durban, but on holiday in Cape Town, Shikar Sookdeo, took his 9-year-old daughter Savarra to pay their last respects. He said this was an event and a memory she would treasure.
Holidaying in Cape Town from Pietermaritzburg, Omesh Singh, said: “He was the last iconic man with values. I thought I had to pay my respects, and I brought my family with me.”
Retired politician Graham Macintosh said: “I always respected Tutu. He’s been a real prophet in the biblical sense, like Jeremiah. If something was wrong, he would speak out, and I was thankful for that.
“He is in a very simple coffin, what we would call a pauper’s coffin with rope handles, plain wood.”
Maurice Seaton said: “I met Archbishop Tutu several times in life, and I wanted to just reflect on his impact on me and South Africa in a time that was very dark for our country. He helped birth a nation.”
Visiting from Port Elizabeth, Unette Jacobs said: “Whenever anything great happened in the country, we were never there because we were never at the place at the right time.
“Even when Nelson Mandela was released, we were in George. But today we were at the right place at the right time so we could come to pay our respects.”
A member of the Nigerian community in Cape Town, Adeola Oyebade, said: “There is no way you can talk about the history of South Africa without acknowledging the contribution of an icon like Archbishop Desmond Tutu.”
From Vryburg in North West province Modisenyane Segapo said the casket Tutu lay in was a reflection of exactly how he lived.
“He is giving us a life lesson not to make funerals about the after tears or about the expensive caskets and material things. It is a send-off back to our maker, and I am truly impressed.”
From Cape Town, Marcia Fisher said: “He was a God-fearing person and a leader of the church for many years, and he had a special place in our hearts.”
Sylvestre Kabasidi, who grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, recalled meeting Tutu in St George’s Mall, and said coming to pay his respects was quite important and personal.
A statement from the Archbishop Tutu IP Trust and the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation said: “This deluge of love serves to compensate, to some extent, for Covid-19 regulations restricting the size of gatherings and the nature of the send-off our beloved Arch so richly deserves.”
Earlier, the cortège had arrived at the church at about 8.30am and was received by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba and the Dean of St George’s Cathedral, Michael Weeder.
Tutu's eldest daughter, Thandeka Tutu-Gxashe, and other family members walked slowly behind the simple pine coffin on which a bouquet of carnations had been placed.
A frail looking Mama Leah Tutu was already in the church, where a brief service was held for the family before they viewed his body before the members of the public who were queuing outside.
Archbishop Makgoba said: “This is a painful time for Mama Leah. She is in bereavement. We need to pray for her. We need to love her and continue supporting her even though her beloved husband is gone.“
Public viewing will be allowed today from 9am to 5pm.