Cape Town – South Africans of all races stopped by Cape Town’s St George’s Cathedral on Sunday to pay their respects to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the anti-apartheid icon who has died aged 90.
“His significance supersedes the boundaries of being an Anglican,” said mourner Brent Goliath, who broke down in tears outside the old stone building.
He told AFP he had been an altar boy and had met Tutu several times.
“I was very emotional this morning when I heard that he’d passed away. I thank God that he has been there for us,” he said, wiping his eyes as he placed a bouquet of pink flowers under Tutu’s photo.
In the cathedral yard, Father Michael Weeder, dean of the cathedral, paced up and down answering phone calls and speaking with workers shortly after Sunday morning mass.
“He died a holy death,” he told AFP near a makeshift shrine being prepared for the public to leave flowers.
Despite the loss, he said “it comes with some relief to the family because Father Desmond has been in a lot of pain over these past weeks”.
‘He fought for us’
Dozens of South Africans stopped at the cathedral, even though many people would not yet have heard of his death — it is customary to switch off and spend the day after Christmas on the beach, rather than pacing the city.
Among those paying respects was Miriam Mokwadi, a 67-year-old retired nurse, who said the Nobel laureate “was a hero to us, he fought for us”.
“We are liberated due to him. If it was not for him, probably we would have been lost as a country. He was just good,” said Mokwadi, clutching the hand of her granddaughter.
Daphney Ramakgopa, 58, a local government worker, spoke of the loss the entire country was feeling.
“We looked up to him as the adviser to everyone in the country, especially our politicians,” she said.
Many passersby remembered Tutu not just for his role in the fight against apartheid, but for how he has continued to hold the democratic government to account, constantly calling out corruption in the ruling African National Congress.
“I can’t think of anybody with that kind of moral compass” left in South Africa, said Aki Khan, a 64-year-old sound engineer and veteran of the apartheid struggle.
“But I really do think his message has filtered through to young people.”
Picture: Getty Images