Nelson Mandela’s body has been transported back to his home village of Qunu for a final vigil before his state funeral on Sunday, but the preparations have been overshadowed by a growing uproar over Desmond Tutu’s exclusion from the funeral.
The body of Mr. Mandela, the anti-apartheid hero who died on Dec. 5, was flown from Pretoria to the Eastern Cape on a C-130 airplane, accompanied by an honor guard of two fighter jets. It was then driven 46 kilometres by road in a military procession to Qunu, his childhood village, while thousands of people lined the route. Many onlookers said they were disappointed that the funeral cortege went by too fast for them to pay their respects.
Mr. Mandela’s body is now in a special room at his farm homestead in Qunu, where tribal leaders and elders will hold a private vigil for him on Saturday night before the funeral on Sunday morning.
But as the vigil began, there was mounting controversy over the exclusion of Mr. Tutu, the retired Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner who has presided over the funerals of many of South Africa’s greatest leaders for decades.
Archbishop Tutu was a key anti-apartheid leader and a close friend of Mr. Mandela, who spent his first night of freedom at the Archbishop’s house in Cape Town after 27 years in prison. Mr. Mandela later appointed him to lead South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission.
But the retired Archbishop has been increasingly critical of the ruling African National Congress in recent years, accusing it of corruption and announcing that he could not vote for it any more. Analysts suspect he is being excluded from the ANC-organized funeral for political reasons.
“Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome, there is no way on earth that I would have missed it," Archbishop Tutu said in a statement on Saturday.
He had planned to fly to the Eastern Cape on Friday to attend Mr. Mandela’s funeral, but he cancelled his plans “after receiving no indication that his name was on a guest or accreditation list,” a spokesman said on Saturday.
Archbishop Tutu added: “Much as I would have loved to attend the service to say a final farewell to someone I loved and treasured, it would have been disrespectful to Tata (Mr. Mandela) to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral.”
Government officials later insisted that Archbishop Tutu was “accredited” and welcome to attend the funeral. But they made clear that he wasn’t on the official list of speakers for the funeral – an implicit signal that he wasn’t really welcome. In any event, by then it was logistically impossible for him to travel to the remote village to attend the funeral.
The funeral, with nearly 5,000 guests, will be much smaller than the memorial services for Mr. Mandela in Johannesburg and Pretoria this week, but its guest list is big enough to make room for a range of foreign celebrities, including Prince Charles and U.S. television star Oprah Winfrey, along with lesser-known officials such as a vice-president of Nicaragua, a former prime minister of Norway, two cabinet ministers from Ethiopia, U.S. activist Jesse Jackson, and the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Archbishop Tutu was a close ally of the ANC in the apartheid era, but in 2011 he attacked the ANC government for barring his friend the Dalai Lama from entering South Africa, apparently because of Chinese government pressure. He said the government was “kowtowing” to Beijing.
He was excluded from most of the official Mandela memorial this week at a huge soccer stadium in Johannesburg, although he was brought on stage at the end of proceedings when most of the crowd had left.