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Paying last respects

Simple wooden coffin and diverse group of mourners reflect life of the Arch, Desmond Tutu

30 December 2021 - 12:22 By Philani Nombembe and Tanya Farber
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's remains arrive at the St George's Cathedral on Thursday morning.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's remains arrive at the St George's Cathedral on Thursday morning.
Image: Esa Alexander

The Arch’s notion of a “rainbow nation”, a term he coined decades ago, might ring hollow for many in a country still racked by inequality drawn along largely racial lines.

But the diversity of those waiting to gaze at his coffin and pay their last respects in St George’s Cathedral where his body lies in state, reflected the “rainbow” that the ultimate idealist had envisaged all those years ago.

They had queued in an unseasonal light drizzle in the CBD in Cape Town, flanked by metal cordons and security personnel, to pay their last respects, and were impressed that his no-frills wooden coffin reflected his simple life.

Siziwe Fayindla, 48, from Gugulethu emerged from the cathedral after 10am. Though she could not see Tutu’s face, she was satisfied that she walked past his coffin.

“I came to pay my last respects to Tata. We got close to the coffin but it was closed. I am impressed because it’s a normal coffin. It’s not even painted. It’s plain wood,” said Fayindla.

The coffin arrived two hours earlier in a dark grey van from which Tutu’s heartbroken daughter Thandeka Tutu emerged in a sunflower-yellow headdress amid incense and hugs.

While the family had some quiet time in the church and shied away from media attention, members of the public waited their turn to say goodbye.

Enersto Garcoamarqus, 64, from Hout Bay said Tutu meant a lot to him.  

“I came specially to pay my last respects,” he said.

“I have had the opportunity to meet Archbishop Tutu a couple of times. I worked at Newspaper House, in St George’s Square, and I used to walk up Adderley Street and sometimes he came down and he greeted me by name. He was very precious to me. I only introduced myself once and he remembered my name. He greeted me 12 times. He interacted with every single person. It didn’t matter who you are. He meant so much to me.”

Lulekwa Gqiba, 41, shared Garcoamarqus’ sentiments.

“My mother benefited from Tata Tutu’s contribution to this country. I am here to pay respects to him on behalf of my mother,” said Gqiba.

“I am impressed that the coffin is closed. That is a very dignified thing to do for his stature. I am impressed that we were provided with seats so that we could sit and reflect after paying our respects.”

Nothemba Ndarha, 41, from Khayelitsha, took an hour off from work to pay her respects.

“We are grateful for his teachings and the hope he gave us. He has inspired us to trust in the Lord. He taught us humility and ubuntu,” she said. “I was supposed to have been at work already but I have dedicated an hour to him. He also gave his time to people and fought for our freedom.  I am not Anglican, but we are together spiritually.

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