This file image from 1994 shows former president Nelson Mandela holding hands with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in Cape Town. Picture: Jerry Holt, The Star Tribune

Nelson Mandela was a diamond - virtually flawless - but one of his weaknesses was his loyalty to the ANC, says Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

“Like the most precious diamond honed deep under the surface of the earth the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless,” said Tutu while addressing the media at the SABC Auditorium in Sea Point.

He said Mandela had done into prison an angry young man “and emerged as this incredible icon of magnanimity and compassion”.

“Like a most precious diamond he was virtually flawless. Did he have weaknesses, of course he did, among them his steadfast loyalty to his organisation and some of his colleagues who ultimately let him down. Retained in the cabinet underperforming, frankly incompetent ministers.”

Tutu said these ministers were just a taste of the “mediocrity and corruptibility that were to come”.

The 82-year-old cleric took a few deep breaths before he was able to continue.

“What is going to happen to us not what our father has died. Does it spell disaster for us. Some have suggested that after he is gone, as he is now gone, our country is going to go up on flames.”

Tutu said comments such as these did no favours for Mandela or South Africa.

“The sun will rise tomorrow and the next day. Not as bright as yesterday but it will carry on.”

He thanked God for the gift of Mandela.

“We are relieved his suffering is over. We pray he will rest in peace and rise in glory. People cared about Mandela, loved him because of his courage of convictions.”

Tutu asked whether Mandela had been an exception that proved the rule of how others viewed Africa and Africans.

“I will say no. Of course he was exemplary but his spirit of greatness resides in us all.”

He recalled a time when Mandela had apologised to him.

“How many of us, how many leaders, would be able to apologise so. God, you have given us an incredible gift. Help us to emulate him. Help us to be the best memorial we could ever be. A South Africa where all of us flourish.”