14 December 2013

South Africa: Tutu to Attend Mandela Funeral After Protests Embarrass Government

Photo: PHOTOESSAY: State Funeral of Nelson Mandela

Members of the South African National Defence Force accompany the casket of former South African president Nelson Mandela to the state funeral.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu will attend Nelson Mandela's state funeral in Qunu, South Africa Sunday, following popular protests - many using the Twitter hashtag #Tutu2Qunu - demanding that the Anglican priest be officially invited.

Tutu's plans to be in Qunu were confirmed by a brief statement Saturday evening by the Desmond & Leah Tutu Foundation. An earlier statement said that he would not be attending, because he had not been invited and had no wish to "gatecrash", although he "loved and treasured" the former South African president. "Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome there is no way on earth that I would have missed it," the statement said.

Tutu, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, got into Tuesday's tightly controlled public memorial service in Soweto's soccer stadium only because he was asked to be part of the 'Elders' delegation with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson.

The 1982 Nobel laureate was not on the official memorial service programme and was asked to give the benediction only on Tuesday morning, after the South African government was embarrassed by questions about the omission.

Speculation surrounding the controversy has centered on Tutu's criticism of the government of President Jacob Zuma, who has seen his popularity fall after numerous scandals and a growing outcry about the gap between a wealthy, powerful elite and an impoverished majority.

In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela said Tutu inspired South Africans during the country's darkest times, and Tutu assisted at the wedding ceremony when Mandela married former Mozambican first lady Graca Machel.

The admiration was mutual. In a guest column for AllAfrica, Tutu called Mandela "a colossus of unimpeachable moral character and integrity, the world's most admired and revered public figure."

Yet the Archbishop recalled times when he and the former president quarreled. "I disagreed with him a number of times", said Tutu, "firstly over his government's decision to continue to manufacture and trade in weapons and over Parliament's insensitive decision to grant itself big pay increases soon after coming to power. He attacked me publicly as a populist, but he never tried to shut me up, and we could laugh over our tiffs and remain friends". Tutu said Mandela showed his greatness by his willingness to admit his mistakes and to apologize.

The critics of the current government's treatment of Tutu this week are, for the moment, expressing relief that he has now been publicly welcomed to attend the funeral. But in the days to come, the complaints - and the contrasts with Mandela's legacy - are sure to be renewed by those dismayed by what they see as a lack of morality or competence within the Zuma presidency.

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