SOUTH AFRICA PEACE icon Desmond Tutu’s office has said that he will be attending Nelson Mandela’s funeral after all, after earlier saying he had cancelled his trip because he was not invited to his old friend’s burial.
“Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will be travelling to Qunu early tomorrow to attend Tata’s funeral,” the Anglican cleric’s office said in a brief statement this evening.
“Tata”, or father, is one of the names by which Mandela is affectionately known in South Africa.
Earlier, Tutu — who has at times been openly critical of the South African government and Mandela’s family — had said he was not going to the burial because he was not invited.
“Much as I would have loved to attend the service to say a final farewell to someone I loved and treasured, it would have been disrespectful to Tata to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral,” Tutu said in a statement.
Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome, there is no way on earth that I would have missed it.
Staff said the retired Anglican archbishop had cancelled a Friday flight to Eastern Cape province, where the funeral will take place on Sunday, “after receiving no indication that his name was on any guest or accreditation list”.
Tutu’s account of events was at odds with that given by the government of President Jacob Zuma, which the clergyman has criticised repeatedly and publicly.
Amid an outcry, the presidency insisted the anti-apartheid campaigner was on a list of accredited dignitaries.
“He is definitely on the list,” presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said, saying he was “taken aback” by claims that the Nobel peace laureate fondly known as the “Arch” was not invited.
“The Arch is not an ordinary church person, he is a special person in our country,” said Maharaj, promising to correct any misunderstanding.
Tutu, who retired in 2010 but is still regarded as a moral beacon for South Africa, like Mandela, has been openly critical of Zuma’s graft-tainted administration.
He has a long history with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) of Mandela and Zuma, and presided over the funerals of famous struggle activists including assassinated communist stalwart Chris Hani and former party leader Walter Sisulu.
Desmond Tuto and Nelson Mandela together after the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was published in 1998 (AP Photo/Zoe Selsky)
But relations have soured, and the popular clergyman was also left off the official programme for a mass memorial service held for Mandela in Soweto on Tuesday, attended by nearly 100 world leaders.
Tutu, who baptised South Africa the “Rainbow Nation”, declared in May that he would no longer vote for the ANC because of “the way things have gone”.
In 2011, the outspoken clergyman blasted Zuma’s administration for being “worse than the apartheid government” after it failed to issue the Dalai Lama a visa to attend his 80th birthday — vowing to pray for its downfall.
And he condemned the police “massacre” of 34 striking mineworkers in August last year.
More recently, Tutu pleaded with Mandela’s family not to “besmirch” the icon’s name after some relatives became involved in a public spat over the Mandela burial site.
Tutu’s absence would have been another embarrassment for South Africa after it emerged that an interpreter for the deaf who translated at Mandela’s memorial on Tuesday was signing gibberish.
Mandela spent his first night as a free man at Tutu’s home in 1990 after his release from 27 years in prison.
The two men remained close over the years.
Mandela appointed him to lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to probe apartheid-era wrongs, and has said that Tutu’s contribution to the country was immeasurable.