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'We rejoice in a life dedicated to the betterment of others': Ramaphosa pays tribute to Desmond Tutu

President Cyril Ramaphosa says flags will fly at half-mast across SA and at diplomatic missions overseas.

Matthew Savides Night news editor
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. File photo.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. File photo.
Image: Halden Krog

Flags will fly at half-mast across SA and at diplomatic missions overseas after the death of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

Details of Tutu's funeral will be announced in the next few days, Ramaphosa said in a televised address.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate died peacefully in a frail care facility on Sunday. He was 90 years old.

Ramaphosa described Tutu as “one of the most illustrious, courageous and beloved among us” — and as someone who “embodied the essence of our humanity”.

“Knowing he was ill for some time does little to soften the blow that has been dealt to SA this sad day. We’ve lost a person who carried the burden of leadership with compassion, with dignity, with humility and with such good humour,” said Ramaphosa.

The president said Tutu — through his work as chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and his struggle against the apartheid regime — “saw the depths of which human beings could descend in the subjugation and oppression of others”.

“Yet his faith in humanity and in people, like his faith in God, was unwavering. He knew that apartheid would one day end and democracy would come. He knew our people will be free one day. By the same measure, he was convinced, even to the end of his life, that poverty, hunger, misery can be defeated; that all people can live together in peace, security and comfort,” he said.

Ramaphosa also referenced Tutu's criticism of the ANC-led government — criticism which had escalated in recent years.

“His brave and often critical voice lost no edge. He continued his work as a tireless campaigner for the oppressed. He was frank and forthright, speaking truth to power, even when this meant criticising the democratic government,” he said.

But, said Ramaphosa, Tutu was someone who “always tempered criticism with compassion”.

“Even at this moment of great pain, we rejoice in a life that was dedicated to the betterment of others."

Tutu was married to Nomalizo Leah Tutu for 66 years and had four children, Trevor, Thandeka, Naomi and Mpho.

Dr Mamphela Ramphele, speaking on behalf of the family, said: “They made an excellent team, she arguably was a little more grounded and pragmatic than him. They regularly placed their deep affection for each other on public display, not least when they celebrated their wedding anniversaries. He was a truly romantic man, who loved his wife and family.”

In a statement confirming Tutu’s death on Sunday morning, Ramaphosa described the Nobel Peace Prize laureate as “a patriot without equal, a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead”.

“A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people about the world,” said Ramaphosa.


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