Tutu ‘not invited’ to Mandela burial
South African peace icon Desmond Tutu, openly critical of the government and members of Nelson Mandela's family, said Saturday he was not invited to his old friend's burial.
“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 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 told AFP, 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.
Minister in the presidency Collins Chabane said no invitations had been sent out, to anyone — but that Tutu was accredited.
“We did not send any invitation (to Tutu), as we did not send any invitation to anybody,” Chabane told reporters.
He said Tutu’s name had been put forward by church leaders and was added to the official list for both the Soweto memorial and the burial.
“Anybody wishing to attend the funeral service, you are welcome,” said the minister.
“If you fall within the category of VIPs, you just need to notify us.”
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.
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.
Limwell Gangathele, a resident of Qunu — Mandela’s childhood village and final resting place — said Tutu should be at the funeral.
“He was a part of the struggle like Madiba. He knew him very well.”
Tutu’s absence would be another embarrassment for the country 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.
The Dalai Lama, another friend of Mandela, will also not be attending the burial, having twice failed to obtain a visa for South Africa since 2009.