Home News S.Africa’s Tutu marks 80th birthday in historic cathedral

S.Africa’s Tutu marks 80th birthday in historic cathedral

Published on 07/10/2011

South Africa's Desmond Tutu celebrated his 80th birthday Friday in the cathedral where he once rallied against white rule, as the Dalai Lama said he was saddened he had not received a visa in time to attend.

St George’s Cathedral, where Tutu served as the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town until 1996, was filled with family and well-wishers from U2 frontman and campaigner Bono to Graca Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, a close friend of Tutu, said in a video message posted online that delays with his visa forced him to call off his trip, in a move which sparked accusations that Pretoria had bowed to please China.

“There was no sort of sign, no answer about my visit, my visa,” he said in a video on the website of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where he was due to speak next week.

“So therefore, then there is no other alternative except withdraw with my visit. So I feel very sad.”

The widely slammed visa drama overshadowed the run-up to the three-day celebration for Tutu, who furiously attacked President Jacob Zuma’s administration for kowtowing to its biggest trade partner China, which opposes the Dalai Lama’s travels abroad.

“I am warning you that we will pray as we prayed for the downfall of the apartheid government, we will pray for the downfall of a government that misrepresents us,” Tutu said Tuesday.

On Friday, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe sat in the front pew across from Tutu’s family at the birthday service. Zuma did not attend, but offered an olive branch in a birthday message.

“Archbishop Tutu has a special place in the hearts of our people for the manner in which he stood up against the apartheid state, speaking out against injustice and oppression,” Zuma said.

“As one of our four Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, we respect him, love him and always welcome his counsel on issues.”

Tutu also used his trademark charisma to reach out to Motlanthe, hugging him in front of the church.

“Thank you so very much for coming, despite some of the hiccups that we have had,” Tutu told Motlanthe, in his only reference to the visa drama.

The Tibetan spiritual leader is now set to give a speech Saturday by video link which will be broadcast live on national television and the Internet.

The tensions of the week, which have dominated South Africa’s front pages, were pushed to the side Friday as the pews of St George’s filled and birthday presents piled at the entrance.

Combining African drums and incense-laden church ceremony, the multi-lingual service paid tribute to the man regarded as South Africa’s moral conscience with the laughter and warmth that he is famed for.

“With every year that passes, you seem more ageless or even more youthful. But this particular anniversary reminds us all how much we owe to your decades of love and service to the reign of God and the family of God’s people,” the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams said in a message read from the altar.

The public service was broadcast on national television. As tributes poured in, Tutu covered his eyes with a handkerchief, embraced by Leah, his wife of 56 years.

After the service, Tutu danced out of the cathedral and left with his family and invited friends for a private picnic at a wine farm in nearby Stellenbosch.

Outside the cathedral hung a banner reading: “SA betrayed for 30 pieces of yuan. We are sorry HH Dalai Lama. Happy Birthday Arch.”