Archbishop Desmond Tutu will be laid to rest on Saturday

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The funeral of the late struggle stalwart, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is set to take place at the St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town on Saturday.

The City of Cape Town has warned the public, and motorists in particular, that numerous roads in the City Centre will be closed due to the funeral service for the Archbishop.

The funeral procession is due to start at 8h00 this morning which will be followed by the service in the St George’s Cathedral.

Mayoral Committee member for Safety and Security JP Smith says the Company’s Garden will also be closed. He says a public viewing area for people who want to follow the funeral service will be set up on the Grand Parade.

Livestream: Funeral service of the late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu:  

Tutu died in the mother city at the age of 90 last Sunday. He was known as a moral voice in South Africa.

For forty years (1976-2015) he immersed himself in the struggle of black South Africans.

He publicly warned and challenged the apartheid government and also mediated between warring factions in the difficult 80s and 90s.

Tutu will also be remembered for his work in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The man in the purple robe – that entwined politics and the church – to fight against injustice.

Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, popularly known as the Arch, was thrust into politics in the seventies when he used his position in the church to campaign against the apartheid regime.

He was influenced in his youth by the well-known British missionary, Father Trevor Huddleston who spent his life working in townships and fighting for equal rights for black people.

Tutu in a similar manner, took on the white minority government until it crumbled.

Son of a principal and domestic worker, Tutu was born in Klerksdorp in the former Transvaal on the 7th October 1931.

His first love was medicine but despite his good grades he did not have enough money to pursue that dream. He instead trained as a teacher in 1954, but that career was short-lived.

He left teaching in protest after the introduction of Bantu Education – designed to give black South Africans an inferior education.

He traded the chalkboard for the pulpit, studied theology and obtained his Masters in Islam. Upon graduating he worked in Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland and the UK.

He returned to South Africa in 1975 as the Anglican Church’s Dean of Johannesburg. This is when his life took a turn. A few weeks later the 1976 Youth Uprisings erupted, police responded with violence leaving 176 people dead and thousands injured.

Tutu sprung into action becoming the unofficial voice of the anti-apartheid movement. He raised awareness, funds and canvassed for sanctions against South Africa.

Voice of the voiceless

Tutu became the voice of the voiceless, and a pillar for the weak. He used his sermons to encourage the nation struggling to survive under a permanent state of oppression.

He was the voice of comfort at many funerals of those killed by the brutal regime.

While many political leaders were banned, exiled or incarcerated — apartheid could not silence the man of the cloth.

He – however – had many critics from the State to ordinary white South Africans who marched holding placards labelling him the devil.

Even his Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his anti-apartheid work did not go without controversy.

However, he soldiered on emerging as the moral authority.

He intervened in the 80’s when South Africa was in flames and a state of emergency was frequently declared.

He offered counsel in the early 90’s when the country plunged into ANC vs IFP violence blamed on the so called third force.

He became a natural choice when a new South Africa desperately needed healing.

President Nelson Mandela appointed him chair of the Truth And Reconciliation Commission.

The TRC laid bare the horrors of apartheid.

Tutu pleaded to the humanity of reluctant participants: “You don’t know how your greatness would be enhanced if you had to say sorry, things went wrong… I am saying it is true, things went horribly wrong.”

Despite the obvious racial divisions, The Arch clung to a dream of a non-racial south Africa: “We are the rainbow people of God … We are free … All of us, black and white together we are free.”

The promised land of democracy he would find was not easy.

His long and steadfast commitment to the ANC was shaken to the core as he butted heads with the organisation.

He had public disagreements with President Thabo Mbeki and then President Jacob Zuma.

He opposed Mbeki for his stance on AIDS, accused him of stifling debate and lamented Black Economic Empowerment for enriching a few elites.

Tutu also made headlines when he said he would not vote in the aftermath of Mbeki’s recall.

In 2013 he announced he would not vote for the ANC – unhappy with Government and Zuma’s candidancy.

The animosity between Zuma’s administration and Tutu played itself out when he complained he was not invited to his friend former President Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

He also spoke out against Zuma’s Government when twice it refused to grant the Tibetan Spiritual leader and his friend the Dalai Lama a visa because of what appeared to be pressure from China:

“Hey Mr Zuma – you and your government do not represent me – you represent your own interest. And I am warning you I really am warning you out of love, I am warning you like I warned the nationalists, I am warning you, one day we will start praying for the defeat of the ANC government. You are disgraceful. I want to warn you, you are behaving in a way that is totally against the things for which we stood for.”

Tutu’s activism

Tutu’s activism extended to minorites. He spoke out against homophobia and xenophobia.

He earned another cap as a hero when he used his 15-year-old personal struggle with prostate cancer to raise awareness. This, more than anything before made him reflect on his own mortality.

But despite his health challenges, he could still make the world smile with his infectious laugh.

Tutu credited all his success to his pillar of strength, his wife Leah. A love affair which began with his father’s best student.

His last public appearance was in July when they celebrated their 60th anniversary in Cape Town and Soweto.

Together they have been through the storms of life.

For six decades Tutu’s life was immersed in the metamorphosis of South Africa.

But his fight for human rights extended to different corners of the world where oppressed people could be found.

Tutu has been etched in our collective memory as the man in purple wielding the Bible as a weapon.