The body of Archbishop Desmond Tutu was carried Thursday into a historic cathedral where he once railed against white rule to allow South Africans to bid farewell to the anti-apartheid icon.
A small bouquet of carnations was placed on top of a simple pine coffin carried by six Anglican priests.
Tutu’s successor, Thabo Makgoba, said a prayer after priests burnt incense over the coffin, before it was lifted from the hearse.
Tutu’s widow Leah walked slowly behind as the coffin entered the cathedral in the city center.
The tireless spiritual and political leader who died peacefully at 90 on the day after Christmas, will be cremated and his ashes buried on New Year’s Day.
Tutu will lie in state at the Anglican Church’s St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town throughout Thursday and Friday to allow as many people as possible to say their final goodbyes to the much-loved clergy and rights advocate.
Tutu’s lying in state had been extended to two days “for fear there might be a stampede,” Reverend Gilmore Fry told AFP outside the church waiting for the body to arrive.
Following a private cremation, Tutu’s ashes will be interred inside his stonewalled former parish — where he preached for many years — and where bells have been ringing in his memory for 10 minutes at midday every day since Monday.
Hundreds of people have flocked to the cathedral since Sunday — where Tutu served as the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town for a decade until 1996 — to lay flowers and sign a book of condolences.
The country’s multi-colored national flag is flying at half-mast across South Africa.
Several ceremonies are taking place across the country every day until the funeral.
It will be a simple funeral in line with his wishes.
“He wanted no ostentatiousness or lavish spending,” said his foundation, adding he even “asked that the coffin be the cheapest available.”
In line with COVID-19 restrictions, only 100 mourners will attend the funeral.
Weakened by advanced age and prostate cancer, the Nobel Peace laureate had retired from public life in recent years.
He retired in 1996 to lead a harrowing journey into South Africa’s dark past as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which exposed the horrors of apartheid in terrible detail. Tutu, with his instinctive humanity, broke down and sobbed at one of its first hearings.
An uncompromising foe of apartheid — South Africa’s brutal regime of oppression against the Black majority — Tutu worked tirelessly, though nonviolently, for its downfall.
Tutu was also an outspoken critic of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians and what he called their “humiliation” by Israeli security forces, calling for sanctions and a global boycott to compel Israel to change its policies and likening the situation to the apartheid he experienced in South Africa.
However, he backed Israel’s right to exist and urged PLO leader Yasser Arafat to accept Israel’s existence in 1989.
In a 2002 address that was published in The Guardian, he said he supported Israel’s right to “secure borders,” but went on: “What is not so understandable, not justified, is what it did to another people to guarantee its existence. I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.”
“In our struggle against apartheid,” he noted in the same address, “the great supporters were Jewish people.” Turning to Israel and the Palestinians, he continued: “Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the downtrodden? Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people.”