It’s never for ordinary mortals that time stand still in their honour whenever they depart this world. It is my contention that on Saturday, 1st January 2022, time should – and would – stand utterly still as the world bid farewell to an extraordinary human being, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu when he is laid to rest in Cape Town, South Africa.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa described the “Arch”, as he was fondly called, as a “patriot without equal”, and ordered a seven-day national mourning period amid lowered flags kept at half-mast for the duration of the mourning period.

Elsewhere in the world, Buckingham Palace in London is expected to announce an official memorial service for Tutu, a Man of the Cloth par excellence.

Such was, and still is to the end, the stature of the Klerksdorp-born cleric who spent his extra-ordinary life disturbing the comfort and peace of sinners wherever they were. To him, God and only God had the supreme authority and no man, no matter how powerful, could lay a claim over the freedom and liberty of another man.

I have known the Arch as Bishop Tutu during the turbulent 1980’s in Soweto as a thorn on the side of the apartheid regime. As young activists across political persuasions he gave us encouragement to face the might of the military state, and through his unwavering campaign for equal rights enhanced our collective resolve to fight on regardless of the constant killing of our comrades by the apartheid regime.

I got to meet and for a while lived very closely with the Arch at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in the US in 1999.

I had been sent to Emory on a half-yearly fellowship by my Johannesburg-based media company and Eureka! on arrival found one Desmond Mpilo Tutu on campus. He was on a year-long fellowship, teaching politics and religion. His classes were hugely popular around the campus and his presence raised the stature of Emory as a university of choice not only in the sprawling South but across the US.

The Arch got to know me closer to such an extent that through his trusted aide, John Allen, I became privileged to attend very private daily morning services of Mass, or Holy Eucharist, an important sacrament in the Anglican life that is sometimes used interchangeably as the Holy Communion commemorating the Last Supper through bread and wine that is consecrated and consumed. Allen was the head of the Arch’s office at Emory and later wrote a biography of the Arch and edited a number Tutu’s other works.

The Arch’s daughter, Mpho, sometimes whenever around joined us in the morning devotion prayers. She was training to become a priest herself at the time when the Anglican Church was grappling with whether to ordain women to the priesthood. She must be the Arch’s daughter – breaking with tradition and swimming – as her father had done for so long, against the tide. No wonder the Arch once famously said “I don’t pray a homophobic God”.

He was a man of his word. I used to sit in the Arch’s home services quietly thanking God for the rare opportunity to attend private prayer sessions with the very “Bishop Tutu”, a childhood hero, a true son of the soil who has lived his entire life dedicating it to the service of mankind, or humanity.

He would read through the Anglican Prayer Book attentively and intimately, saying out loud the words in the Liturgy within the confines of a modest room regardless of how few we were that we could be counted on the fingers of one hand. I’d watch the daily proceedings with awe and admiration, often reminded about just how Tutu gave true meaning to the Biblical words in Matthew chapter 18 verse 20 where it reads: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

As an Anglican myself, I never took for granted the amazing privilege of spending exclusive and valuable time with the Arch and his inner circle. To be with him was doubtlessly to be in the very presence of greatness, for sure.

Over the weekends, John Allen would be so kind as to invite me to join him and the Arch for leisure or, to use today’s lingua franca, “to chill”.

That exposed me to Archbishop Tutu’s other side, a side of him generally unknown. A friend, brother, father and a wonderful mate to hang around with. We would watch sport, particularly rugby on the international channel. To be honest, I wasn’t a rugby fan, and actually harboured my private doubts about openly supporting the Springboks. But how could I raise such a view with the Arch screaming at the top of his voice whilst watching the Springboks play against Australia: “Gaan Bokke! Kom, kom maan,” (loosely translated Go Bokke! Come on, come on guys), the Arch would say whilst gently sipping his Rum and Coke and me imbibing my cold beer.

And then, I made time to attend one of the Arch’s popular classes on Emory campus. The lecture hall was packed to the rafters. White, African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics – you name them, everybody attended the Arch’s classes including some academic staff.

One student raised a hand and asked the Arch about how he and others defeated apartheid? After some funereal silence in class, with all eyes on the iconic anti-apartheid cleric, Tutu responded: “How do you eat an elephant?,” he asked the silent class. After a brief non-verbal communication spell, the Arch provided the students with the answer: “Peace-by-peace.”

He went on to speak about how over many decades different generations in SA and internationally kept chipping away at the might of the apartheid regime until the system became weak enough to be crushed through various means including, but not limited to, mass action, international solidarity, sanctions, etc.

The world, and not just SA, has lost a true crusader of justice for the weak against the powerful. A man who feared no evil even as walked in the valley of death at the height of apartheid”. A thorn in the flesh of the immoral political elites, during apartheid and in democratic SA.

He was a friend of the Palestinian cause, a brother’s keeper of the Dalai Lama, an inspiration to the victims of unjust orders the world over.

Archbishop Tutu departs this world with the profound words that are found in 2 Timothy Chapter 4 verse 7: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”

Indeed, at the age of 90, the old man has given the universe a spark of light and a firmament of brightness that is missing in the multitude of dark corners across the globe. Go well, Arch. Time will stand still as the world bid you farewell this weekend. You leave none like you behind. We are blessed by your exemplary life and your moral teachings. Love always.