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A lover, a fighter, a father, a teacher: Cape Town remembers the many faces of Tutu

Struggle activists Cheryl Carolus and Mamphela Ramphele recall how Tutu lead by example and made unlikely allies.

Purple flags adorn the Cape Town City Hall in remembrance of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
Purple flags adorn the Cape Town City Hall in remembrance of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
Image: Esa Alexander

Ten religious leaders walk into a City Hall. This is not the beginning of an awkward joke but rather the lasting legacy of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s willingness to open his arms to people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Cape Town’s memorial service was characterised by the city’s religious leaders sharing the stage to commemorate a man who the city’s mayor called “The Greatest Capetonian’.

The historic city hall building, where Nelson Mandela greeted crowds upon his release, was bathed in a purple glow as religious leaders read out messages, meditations and a prayer for the departed.

Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, addressing the service wearing a purple bow, said Tutu “saw what SA’s future must look like” even when others did not. 

“For decades he faithfully worked for a country of justice and mutual respect even though he could not see it. He always believed a better future was possible even if not yet visible,” he said. 

Hill-Lewis said South Africans should commit themselves to “doing good in this life.”

“His life was a wonderful blessing to us all, whether we knew him or not. I hope we can celebrate the man who gave so much joy to so many,” he said.

Western Cape premier Alan Winde thanked Tutu's wife, Leah, for the grace with which she welcomed visitors to her home. 

He said he remembered “the humour and aura” Tutu had. 

“We remember your laugh. When the Arch worked into a room you just felt that aura,” he said. “As we gather, as we change things to purple ... all of us are embracing what you have meant for us in your time here.” 

Cheryl Carolus, a struggle leader in the Western Cape, said,  “Some of the fondest memories I had of father were the stand-up fights that we used to have.”

Carolus spoke about how Tutu was never afraid to speak to and recruit people who were from differing backgrounds while also calling out what he believed was contrary to his beliefs.

“In his opposition to the National (Party) government, there were many attempts to assassinate him. But mercifully they did not succeed,” she said.

She recalled how Tutu spoke out against “the gravy train” in postapartheid SA, supported those living with HIV/Aids and spoke out against other injustices. 

“He took on battles that others sought to ignore for expediency,” she said. 

Dr Mamphela Ramphele spoke on behalf of the Tutu family and foundation. 

“The family is so grateful for the outpouring of love and support. We feel that this makes the pain of separation much easier but it also reflects the man we are celebrating today.” 

Ramphele said Tutu lived  the ideal of ubuntu in every aspect of his life. 

“The Arch's greatest gift was to teach us by example. He wasn't doing it because he had a political agenda. He was doing it because he was called to it,” she said. 

Tutu will be laid to rest on January 1 in Cape Town.