Nelson Mandela

ANC delivers Nelson Mandela funeral snub to Archbishop Desmond Tutu

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 December, 2013, 6:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 December, 2013, 6:05am

Retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the most prominent figures in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, has been excluded from the funeral of Nelson Mandela today in what has been described as a politically motivated snub.

Critics accused the governing African National Congress (ANC) of looking petty by apparently failing to invite Tutu, one of the most vocal campaigners for Mandela's release from jail during white minority rule.

"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 to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral," Tutu said.

"Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome, there is no way on earth that I would have missed it."

Staff said the retired archbishop cancelled a Friday flight to the Eastern Cape, where the funeral will take place.

The former archbishop has become a fierce critic of the ANC in recent years. In 2011 he compared it unfavourably to the apartheid regime and warned that "one day we will pray for the defeat of the ANC government".

His absence from the burial provoked anger and bewilderment. Bantu Holomisa, a former ANC politician close to the Mandela family, said: "There must be a mistake. Why would the government not do that? He should be the first person accredited. It's strange - there must have been a breakdown."

Government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said that Tutu should have phoned. "If he had called, we would have given him accreditation ... there were no malicious shenanigans," she said.

Today's funeral is scheduled to begin at 8am local time with a two-hour ceremony for 50,000 people. Mandela's casket was flown to Qunu in Eastern Cape province yesterday after a send-off organised by the ANC. 

The South African government also faced further embarrassment over reports that a sign language interpreter who gesticulated nonsense during Mandela's memorial service once faced a murder charge. 

The Guardian, Agence France-Presse