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December 14, 2013

Desmond Tutu: Not invited to Mandela funeral

JOHANNESBURG — Another controversy hit South Africa's long goodbye to anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela on Saturday when his fellow anti-apartheid foe Desmond Tutu said he had not been accredited as a clergyman at the funeral by the government so he would not attend.

Mac Maharaj, a spokesman for the South African president Jacob Zuma, insisted that Tutu is on the guest list and that he hopes a solution will be found so Tutu attends.

The 82-year-old retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town indicated he felt he had been snubbed by the current government, with which he has clashed several times in the past.

"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 (Mandela) to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral," Tutu said in a statement. "Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome there is no way on earth that I would have missed it."

It was the latest problem to hit the 10-day mourning period for Mandela, the former president who died on Dec. 5 at age 95. The public memorial ceremony for Mandela on Tuesday at a Soweto stadium started late, had problems with loudspeakers and featured a signing interpreter for the deaf who made incomprehensible gestures, is a self-described schizophrenic and reportedly once faced charges of murder and other serious crimes.

Maharaj said he did not know whether Tutu had been invited to eulogize Mandela. Tutu has preached at the funerals of most major anti-apartheid figures, including Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Walter Sisulu and others.

Tutu's daughter, Rev. Mpho Tutu, said in a statement earlier Saturday that her father had not been accredited as a clergyman at Mandela's funeral, to be held in Mandela's home village of Qunu.

"It's a bit hard to figure out what's going on," said Adam Habib, vice chancellor of Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand. "My gut feeling is it's probably an administrative bungle more than an intentional snub. But it doesn't seem he was the first person on their mind when they were making choices about who speaks. And he has been quite critical of Zuma's propensity for corruption."

Habib pointed out that Tutu was not on the official list of speakers at the Mandela memorial service at a Soweto football stadium Tuesday, although he was added to the program.

The issue highlights occasional frictions between Tutu and Zuma. Two years ago, Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate often described as South Africa's conscience, slammed the ANC-led government as "disgraceful" for not issuing a visa to the Dalai Lama. He said it was worse than the country's former oppressive white regime.

At that time, South African foreign ministry officials denied they stalled on the visa because of pressure from China, a major trading partner. Tutu, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his nonviolent campaign against white racist rule, had invited the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel laureate, to South Africa to celebrate Tutu's 80th birthday. The Dalai Lama's office said he was calling off the visit because he didn't expect to get a visa.

Tutu accused the South African government of failing to side with "Tibetans who are being oppressed viciously by the Chinese." He also charged Zuma with ignoring the contribution religious leaders made to toppling the white Nationalist Party.

Before April 2009 elections propelled Zuma to the presidency, Tutu had said he was so skeptical of the ANC leader he was considering not casting a ballot. Tutu cited a rape trial in which Zuma was acquitted and corruption charges that were dropped just before the vote.

Tutu worked closely with Mandela and served as one of the anti-apartheid struggle's most visible public figures during the 27 years when Mandela was imprisoned. Tutu was the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created by Mandela's government which investigated apartheid atrocities and he delivered the final report to Mandela in October 1998.

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