June 13, 2024

Young South Africans learn of Tutu’s activism for equality

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The legacy of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s activism for equality continues to reverberate among young South Africans, many of whom were not born when the clergyman battled apartheid.

South Africa is holding a week of mourning for Tutu, who died Sunday at the age of 90. Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his passionate efforts to win full rights for South Africa’s Black majority.

Flowers are placed alongside a photo of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa Sunday, Dec. 26. (Photo: AP)

Following the end of apartheid in 1994, when South Africa became a democracy, Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that documented atrocities during apartheid and sought to promote national reconciliation. Tutu also became one of the world’s most prominent religious leaders to champion LGBTQ rights.

Some young South Africans told The Associated Press on Monday that even though they did not know much about him, they knew that he was one of the most prominent figures to help the country become a democracy.

Zinhle Gamede, 16, said she found out about Tutu’s passing on social media and has learned more about him over the past 24 hours.

“I found about his death yesterday on TV and on Facebook. People were saying that he is one of the people that fought for our freedom. At first I only knew that he was an archbishop, I really did not know much else,” said Gamede.

“I think that people who fought for our freedom are great people. We are in a better place because of them. Today I am living my life freely, unlike in the olden days where there was no freedom,” said Gamede, of South Africa under apartheid.

She said that Tutu’s death had inspired her to learn more about South Africa’s history, especially the struggle against white minority rule.

Women place flowers outside the historical home of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa Monday. At midday in Cape Town, bells rang from St. George’s Anglican Cathedral to honor Archbishop Emeritus Tutu a day after his death. (Photo: AP/Shiraaz Mohamed)

Lesley Morake, 25, said he knew about Tutu through the prelate’s outspoken support for LGBTQ rights.

“As a gay person, it is rare to hear people from the church speaking openly about gay issues, but I found out about him through gay activists who sometimes use his quotes during campaigns,” said Morake. “That is how I knew about him, and that is what I will remember about him.”

Tshepo Nkatlo, 32, said he is focusing on the positive things he is hearing about Tutu, instead of some negative sentiments he saw on social media.

“One of the things I picked up on Facebook and Twitter was that some people were criticizing him for the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) because there are still many issues regarding the TRC,” Tshepo said, referring to some who say Tutu should have been tougher on whites who perpetrated abuses under apartheid and should have ordered that they be prosecuted.

“But mostly I have been hearing positive things about him,” said Nkatlo.

Bells rang at midday Monday from St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Cape Town to honor Tutu. The bells at “the people’s cathedral” where Tutu worked to unite South Africans of all races against apartheid, will toll for 10 minutes at noon for five days to mark Tutu’s life.

“We ask all who hear the bells to pause their busy schedules for a moment in tribute to Archbishop Tutu,” the current Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, said. Anglican churches across South Africa will also ring their bells at noon this week and the Angelus prayer will be recited.

Several services in South Africa are being planned to honor Tutu’s life, as tributes came in from around the world.

Tutu’s body will lie in state at the cathedral in Cape Town on Friday to allow the public to file past his coffin “which will reflect the simplicity with which he asked to be buried,” said Makgoba in a statement. On Friday night Tutu’s body will “lie alone in the cathedral which he loved,” said the statement.

A requiem mass will be held Saturday and, according to Tutu’s wishes, he will be cremated and his ashes placed in the cathedral’s mausoleum, church officials said Monday.

In addition, an ecumenical and interfaith service will be held for Tutu on Thursday in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria.

South Africans are laying flowers at the cathedral, in front of Tutu’s home in Cape Town’s Milnerton area, and in front of his former home in Soweto.

“He knew in his soul that good would triumph over evil, that justice would prevail over iniquity, and that reconciliation would prevail over revenge and recrimination. He knew that apartheid would end, that democracy would come,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said of Tutu, in a nationally broadcast address Sunday night.

“He knew that our people would be free. By the same measure, he was convinced, even to the end of his life, that poverty, hunger and misery can be defeated; that all people can live together in peace, security and comfort,” said Ramaphosa who added that South Africa’s flags will be flown at half-staff this week.

Ramaphosa urged all South Africans to “pay respects to the departed and to celebrate life with the exuberance and the purpose of our beloved Archbishop. May we follow in his footsteps. May we, too, be worthy inheritors of the mantle of service, of selflessness, of courage, and of principled solidarity with the poor and marginalized.”

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