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Desmond Tutu is honored at a fitting Cape Town funeral

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

In South Africa today, the country bid farewell to a beloved leader, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died last Sunday at the age of 90. At his funeral in Cape Town, President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the eulogy.

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PRES CYRIL RAMAPHOSA: Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been our moral compass, but he's also been our national conscience.

FLORIDO: Tutu was remembered for his instrumental role in ending the apartheid regime of racial segregation in South Africa and for helping to lead the new democratic South Africa alongside Nelson Mandela.

Journalist Kate Bartlett was at the funeral, which was held at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town. And she joins us now to tell us more.

Kate, welcome.

KATE BARTLETT: Hi.

FLORIDO: To start us off, can you give us a sense of what the funeral was like today? Who was in attendance?

BARTLETT: Sure. It was a very colorful ceremony, very South African. Instead of pure solemnity, you know, there were fond memories. There were some jokes but also plenty of the Anglican pomp and ceremony you would expect for an archbishop.

FLORIDO: Archbishop Tutu requested a modest ceremony before he died, I understand. Did you see that request reflected in today's event?

BARTLETT: Indeed. He had specifically asked that there be no ostentatiousness. So he had the cheapest, simple wooden coffin and hardly any flowers. So Tutu was definitely making a point rejecting anything lavish. He was a champion of the downtrodden, the marginalized, the oppressed. So this was fitting. And interestingly, you know, he was a vocal opponent of the threat of climate change. And instead of being cremated, his body will be aquamated, which is a process using water instead of fire.

FLORIDO: Wow. What have you heard from South Africans today? How have they been remembering the archbishop today and in the week since he died?

BARTLETT: Well, you know, it was Tutu who coined the famous term the rainbow nation, and that was on full display this week because South Africans of all races and religious backgrounds came to see his coffin lying in state. Some South Africans recalled how he was vilified by the apartheid regime. One white South African woman told me that she had grown up thinking he was some kind of a communist agitator and only realized when she was much older what a force for good Desmond Tutu was. And many other South Africans, even those born after the end of apartheid, wanted to thank him for fighting for their freedom.

FLORIDO: We heard Archbishop Tutu described today as South Africa's spiritual leader and moral compass. Now that he's been laid to rest, is there really anyone in South Africa who can fill that or a similar role, you think?

BARTLETT: I've asked a lot of people that question this week, and there's really no one person who comes to mind. But I think, hopefully, the legacy left by this generation of leaders - Mandela Tutu and the like - the legacy like free courts, a vibrant free press, critical opposition will hopefully stand the test of time.

FLORIDO: That was journalist Kate Bartlett joining us from Cape Town, where she attended the funeral for Archbishop Desmond Tutu today.

Thank you, Kate, for joining us.

BARTLETT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.