Day 2 of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s lying in state saw hundreds of mourners from all walks of life, walk into the Cathedral on the one side and then out on the other, as they paid their last respects to the man they held in high regard. One by one, observing the social distancing, they filed past the coffin, often stopping to nod or salute, inaudibly mumbling a few words by the coffin before walking off towards the exit.
But to the surprise of many, the coffin was closed. However, that was not a disappointment at all.
Fight back tears, Charlene Meyer (55), recounted how as a young girl growing up in Cape Town during the apartheid era, the man who sought to instill “the just war theory” amongst the people, often led their marches against the apartheid government.
“I feel so very sad right now. I just had to come and say goodbye to my reverend. Back in the day, he was the reverend when I was a child at the Catholic Church of Resurrection. Later on, in my adult life, he was still a huge part of my life, because he used to be the leader of our marches, you know, back in 1976. I can so vividly remember that specific day when the police riot squad sprayed us with the teargas. He was there. He was the leader and he was laughing at the police.”
She says she knew she was going to find the coffin closed when she entered the Cathedral to pay her last respect.
“It’s fine. He is at peace!”
For Matlhogonolo Lebelo, accompanied by her sister and mother, the important thing is that the Arch is finally resting.
“After going in there, I feel okay. It’s good that he is finally resting after his illness and may his soul rest in peace. I was surprised the coffin was closed. I expected it to be open actually, but either way, we got to pay our respects and I think that was the main reason we came here today. So, whether it was open or closed we did what we came here to do.”
Zaylen Meyer, a member of the Anglican Church in Cape Town, says he also knew ahead of time from those who had gone before him that the coffin was closed.
“I knew that the coffin was closed even before I got there. Under normal circumstances it would have been open but under the current circumstances it’s okay. I was not disappointed. It doesn’t change anything for me.”
Meyer says it was sad to see the coffin where they used to listen to Tutu’s sermons.
“I feel sad because it is a pivotal role that the Arch played, not only in the church but worldwide and I think that is what we, young people, need to strife for and not just working for ourselves. But working in the community and strengthening our ties with one another. And if we can do that, it’s going to help us take this country forward.”
Maria Manuel is originally from Angola and does not know much about Tutu. However, since his passing, she says, she has heard a lot about him and what he stood for and, as a result, she felt she needed to come pay her respect.
“What I saw there, I saw a person who was not connected to this world, material things. Really, his life was just about helping others and to show that in simplicity you can be happy. I mean a man of his calibre was supposed to be there in a very expensive casket, but he is just a simple man in a simple coffin, which really makes him such a great man. I really had to come pay my respect because what my colleague told me about him really touched my heart. What I heard about him is that he was really a man of God, not these men of God who are there to make money. This man had a heart for the people and for God. I wish I’d known him and learnt from him.”
Manuel says she was not disappointed to find the coffin closed.
For Berry Jansen it was the Arch’s humility that left him in awe.
“The Arch was a very humble and very respectful. I respect him very, very much. I am happy I got the opportunity to pay my last respects.”
He says he didn’t expect to find the coffin closed, “but it’s okay. It doesn’t matter, as long as I was there.”
The 1984 Nobel Prize Laurette who passed away last Sunday at the age of 90, will be cremated following his funeral on Saturday morning and as per his wishes, have his ashes interred in the Cathedral.
Preparations Tutu Funeral | Remembering the life and times of Arch Tutu: Dr Brigalia Bam