EULOGY BY PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA AT THE FUNERAL SERVICE OF ARCHBISHOP EMERITUS DESMOND MPILO TUTU, ST GEORGE’S CATHEDRAL, CAPE TOWN
It is only the few among us, the rarest of souls, who attain the stature of global icon during their lifetime.
In our modern age, this term has come to be associated with celebrity and social media fame.
Yet if we are to understand a global icon to be someone of great moral stature, of exceptional qualities and of service to humanity, there can be no doubt that it refers to the man we are laying to rest today.
Our departed father was a crusader in the struggle for freedom, for justice, for equality and for peace, not just in South Africa, the country of his birth, but around the world as well.
Such was the overarching impact and influence of Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu that tributes have been received from current and past presidents, religious leaders, monarchs, lawmakers, political parties, musicians and artists, and ordinary people from all corners of the globe.
Climate activists, LGBTQI+ groups, solidarity movements and community organisations are just some of those who have paid homage to a man who gave his life to the cause of freedom. A humble and brave human being who spoke up for the oppressed, the downtrodden and the suffering.
In doing so, he walked in the footsteps of his mentor, Father Trevor Huddleston, and of the many heroic champions of freedom in our country and on our continent.
How fitting is it that his parents named him Mpilo, meaning life.
In his life, he enriched the lives of all he met and all those who got to know him.
Over the past week, we have heard many moving accounts and seen many images of Archbishop Tutu’s life.
These accounts and images are a chronicle of a life of activism, statesmanship, ministry and pastoralism.
There is one image taken in 1989 at a protest march in Cape Town.
In the black and white photograph, we see Archbishop Tutu alongside the Late Professor Jakes Gerwel, glaring defiantly at a cordon of police armed to the teeth, just inches away. Their mission was to stop the march from proceeding.
It is a striking photograph that captures the steely determination of the Arch to challenge the authority of an unjust, illegitimate and repressive regime.
It was a vivid depiction of the confrontation between ‘right’ – represented by those who were marching for democracy – and ‘might’ – represented by the men in the uniforms of the apartheid police.
That photograph brings to mind the words he spoke following his arrest in 1988 during a clergy-led protest against the crackdown on anti-apartheid groups.
Bible in hand he told a news conference he would continue with his defiance.
“We are not defying the law,” he declared, “we are obeying God.”
There is the famous image taken in 1996 during the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of our Archbishop, his head bent over folded arms, his shoulders weighed down by the deep tragedy and the unspeakable cruelty of the crime of apartheid.
The TRC had just heard heart-rending testimony from a veteran activist Singqokwana Malgas on how he was tortured by the security police, so brutally that he was now confined to a wheelchair.
Overcome with emotion at what he had heard, Archbishop Tutu dropped his head in his hands and wept.
Together, these photographs speak not only to the strength of his convictions, but to how deeply he felt the anguish and the suffering inflicted on others by injustice and intolerance.
There are the many images we have of him speaking to crowds, his arms stretched out as though embracing them, or looking serenely up to the heavens.
He was a man with a faith as deep as it was abiding.
For him, opposing injustice, standing up for the oppressed, defying unjust laws, was God’s work.
Destiny had anointed him a champion of the immortal cause of justice.
He took to heart and lived the words of the Book of Proverbs chapter 31, verses 8 to 9:
“Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.
“Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
He was not content to decry apartheid at conferences or benefit concerts or international fora.
He was there, with the freedom fighters, confronting the regime and comforting its victims.
He was not content to preach about social justice from the pulpit.
He was with the homeless, the helpless, the persecuted, the sick and the destitute in the streets, in shelters and in homes.
He embraced all who had ever felt the cold wind of exclusion and they in turn embraced him.
He sought to emulate Jesus Christ, who embraced all those who society looked down upon and rejected.
Throughout his life he became involved in causes both at home and abroad that went to the very heart of the quest for social justice.
Through the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, he was involved in the treatment and care of people living with HIV and Aids, in the provision of healthcare services to adolescents, and the empowerment of young women.
He was an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian cause and in 2014 wrote a powerful article calling on Israelis and Palestinians to find each other and to make peace.
In his words, “peace requires the people of Israel and Palestine to recognise the human being in themselves and each other, and to understand their interdependence.”
He advocated for LGBTQI+ rights and decried all forms of violence and discrimination against the community.
Speaking of hate crimes perpetrated against the LGBTQI+ community in a powerful video message marking 20 years since the World Conference on Human Rights he said: “I oppose such injustice with the same passion that I opposed apartheid.”
One of the causes that was dear to him and less well known, was campaigning together with her Royal Highness Mabel van Oranje, who is here with us today, against child marriage across the globe.
I have learned how he travelled to villages in Ethiopia, India and Zambia to understand the circumstances under which young girls were being forced into marriage.
He also took up this cause with The Elders, the group of senior leaders brought together by President Mandela in 2007.
Such was his stamina, such was his commitment to social justice for all, that he took up the cudgels on behalf of millions of people around the world.
Many would know his name, but many more would not. But he made a difference.
He never stopped fighting. He never stopped speaking out. He never stopped caring.
Since the passing of our beloved Archbishop, we have been looking back on his life, on the part he played in our transition to democracy and his towering role as Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Today, 27 years after the advent of our democracy, we can still say with certainty that what we have achieved as a country was nothing short of a miracle.
We could have chosen the path of retribution, but the project of national reconciliation, of recognising the injustices of our past, set us apart from many societies in transition.
Alongside President Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu helped steer our nation through this painful period.
The heartrending testimonies of many who had suffered and lost loved ones were broadcast live for all to see.
The accounts opened deep apartheid wounds. But they also opened a window not only for the formerly oppressed to know what had happened to their loved ones, but also for the white minority to know what crimes had been perpetrated in their name.
Helping us to come to terms with the past was among the most arduous tasks of our new nation, and Archbishop Tutu played a seminal role.
At Madiba’s request, he led the Truth and Reconciliation process, and he did so with integrity, dignity and humility.
While our beloved Madiba was the father of our democracy, Archbishop Tutu was the spiritual father of our new nation.
In considering how fortunate we are as a country to have been blessed with these two global icons, we think about Vilakazi Street in Soweto, the only street in the world that was home to two Nobel Peace Laureates.
We think how both of them played different, but complementary, roles in forging the nation that we are today.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been our moral compass and national conscience.
Even after the advent of democracy, he did not hesitate to draw attention, often harshly, to our shortcomings as leaders of the democratic State.
He saw our country as a ‘rainbow nation’, emerging from the shadow of apartheid, united in its diversity, with freedom and equal rights for all.
The Arch bequeathed us many things – the importance of having the courage of one’s convictions, solidarity with the oppressed, delivering on the promises made by the Constitution, and many others.
But it was with this term, rainbow nation, that he bequeathed our new nation the greatest gift of all: hope and forgiveness.
Hope and forgiveness for a better tomorrow, hope for a country free of tyranny and hope for a society where all the people of South Africa irrespective of their religious affiliation, gender, race and origin could live side by side in harmony.
When he first spoke about us as a rainbow nation, South Africa was a different place and we were going through a difficult time.
We are still finding our feet on our long road to nationhood.
He has left us at another difficult time in the life of our nation.
Problems and challenges are everywhere.
Poverty and inequality, racism, homophobia, gender-based violence, crime and corruption have left many people disenchanted.
There were times when he felt let down.
And yet he never lost hope.
The most fitting tribute we can pay to him, whoever and wherever we are, is to take up the cause of social justice for which he tirelessly campaigned.
Archbishop Tutu has left a formidable legacy and we are enormously diminished by his passing.
His life straddled an epoch in our country’s history that has now come to an end.
Though we say goodbye to him today with the heaviest of hearts, we salute our beloved Archbishop for all he did to help build this nation.
We thank him for giving us hope, for reminding us of our responsibility as leaders, and for giving us reason to believe we are and can be a true Rainbow Nation.
We celebrate him for what he was: Life. Mpilo.
To Mam’ Leah and the family, our nation shares in your sorrow.
On behalf of the government and the people of South Africa we thank you for sharing your husband, father, brother, uncle and grandfather with us.
We know it was not easy, and yet you did so willingly.
He belonged to us all and it is all of us who mourn him and celebrate his life today.
I recently came across these words which provide a fitting end to any tribute to Desmond Tutu:
“Tears are sometimes an inappropriate response to death.
“When a life has been lived completely honestly, completely successfully, or just completely, the correct response to death’s perfect punctuation mark, is a smile.”
His was a life lived honestly and completely. He has left the world a better place. We remember him with a smile.
Farewell father, servant of God.
Rest in peace.