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The coffin of the anti-apartheid icon has arrived at Cape Town Cathedral

“We came to pay homage”. South Africans began to meditate on Thursday in front of the remains of Bishop Desmond Tutu, which arrived at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, from where he has long attacked the racist apartheid regime.

The light pine coffin – he had asked for “the cheapest possible” -, simply decorated with a bouquet of white carnations, was carried in the choir by six priests in chasubles, AFP journalists noted. He will stay there for a fiery chapel scheduled for two days.

A planetary tribute

Tireless defender of human rights, Desmond Tutu died peacefully at the age of 90 on Sunday. After the planetary tribute, paid by the great of this world, from his friend the Dalai Lama to Pope Francis through many heads of state, it is the turn of ordinary citizens.

“We came to pay homage,” says Joan Coulson who, with her sister, showed up early in the morning to be the first to enter the choir. “I met him when I was fifteen, I’m 70 now,” she says, claiming that for her he’s a rock star “like Elvis”.

Evoking his outspokenness and his humor, she bet that he is already stirring Heaven. “Saint-Pierre is going to say to him: ‘eh calm down, no arguments!” “, She jokes.

Many want to greet the icon

The public will be able to visit the cathedral until 5 p.m. Originally scheduled for Thursday alone, this fiery chapel has been extended to Friday, “lest there be a scramble,” Reverend Gilmore Fry said outside the cathedral.

Because many want to greet the icon before his funeral scheduled for Saturday. After a private cremation, the ashes of Bishop Tutu will be buried in the cathedral, of which he was archbishop for ten years until 1996.

Since Sunday, hundreds have flocked there to sign the register, leave messages and bouquets of flowers. His bells ring every day at midday, for ten minutes, in his memory.

Flags at half mast

Flags are at half mast across the country and Table Mountain, which overlooks the port city, is lit up purple nightly in homage to “The Arch”.

For his funeral, neither ostentatious ceremony nor lavish expenses, the prelate had left strict instructions. Besides the bouquet offered by the family, no other flowers. Assistance should be limited to a hundred people, Covid requires.

The religious ceremony will also be an official ceremony. But the military had to limit, according to the wishes of the archbishop again, their intervention to the delivery of a South African flag to his widow Leah, with whom he had married in 1955 and had four children.

The “rainbow” nation

The Nobel Peace Prize winner had retired from public life in recent months, weakened by his old age and cancer. After the advent of democracy in 1994 and the election of his friend Nelson Mandela, it was he who found the formula to describe the post-apartheid country as a “rainbow”.

Desmond Tutu had chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which he hoped, thanks to the confrontation of the executioners and the victims, that it would make it possible to turn the page on racial hatred.

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