Desmond Tutu changes mind, going to Mandela funeral
Government has always maintained retired archbishop is on guest list
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The spokesman for retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu says the Nobel prize-winning cleric has changed his plans and will attend the funeral of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
Roger Friedman said late Saturday that Tutu will take a flight early Sunday morning in order to attend Mandela's funeral service in Qunu. He did not say what brought about the change in Tutu's plans.
Earlier Saturday Tutu had said he would not attend because he had not been invited and did not want to "gatecrash" Mandela's burial services. The South African government said that Tutu had been invited.
Preparations for Mandela's funeral had been marred by what has become a public spat between the South African government and Tutu, one of the most prominent survivors in the long anti-apartheid struggle.
Tutu, a Nobel laureate who has strongly criticized the current government, said in a statement earlier that he will not be attending Mandela's funeral, even though he wishes to pay respects to his longtime friend.
He says he was not invited — an apparent snub that the government vehemently denies. Tutu said that " it would have been disrespectful to Tata (Mandela) to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral."
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Tutu, 82, said he had cancelled his plans to fly to the Eastern Cape to attend the Sunday funeral after receiving no indication that his name was on the guest list or accreditation list.
However, Mac Maharaj, a spokesman for the South African presidency, said Tutu is on the guest list and that he hopes a solution will be found that allows Tutu to attend.
"Certainly he is invited," Maharaj said. "He's an important person."
He said he did not know whether Tutu had been invited to eulogize Mandela but was certain an invitation to attend had been issued. Tutu has preached at the funerals of most major anti-apartheid figures, including Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Walter Sisulu and others.
The issue highlights occasional frictions between Tutu and the current government of President Jacob Zuma. Two years ago, Tutu, an anti-apartheid hero 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.