, JOHANNESBURG, Dec 14 – South African peace icon Desmond Tutu said Saturday he was not invited to the burial of his friend Nelson Mandela, amid allegations he was snubbed for political reasons.
“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 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.”
Staff said Tutu cancelled a Friday flight to Eastern Cape “after receiving no indication that his name was on any guest or accreditation list”.
Earlier, the Nobel laureate’s daughter, Mpho Tutu, who heads his foundation, told AFP that he would not attend because he “is not an accredited clergyperson for the event”.
Tutu’s account of the events was at odds with that given by the government of President Jacob Zuma, which the clergyman has publicly criticised.
Amid public outcry, the presidency insisted that Tutu was on the list of invited dignitaries to the burial.
“I have been checking and he is definitely on the list,” presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told AFP, saying he was “taken aback” by the news that the man known fondly as the “Arch” was not invited.
“The Arch is not an ordinary church person, he is a special person in our country and he is definitely on the list,” said Maharaj, promising to sort out any misunderstanding that may have arisen.
“If there’s any problem we will try to iron that out, but I can assure you that he is on the programme.”
Tutu, who retired in 2010 and is seen as South Africa’s moral beacon, is openly critical of President Jacob Zuma’s graft-tainted administration.
The ruling ANC refused to comment with the party’s secretary general Gwede Mantashe telling AFP: “This is a state funeral, it’s not an ANC funeral.”
Tutu was also left out of the official programme of the Mandela main memorial service held in Soweto on Tuesday, which was attended by nearly 100 world leaders.
He was called up to the podium at the end of the service to bless the ceremony, when only a handful of people remained in the stadium, and seized the opportunity to reprimand the crowd for heckling Zuma during the memorial.
Mandela spent his first night as a free man at Tutu’s home in 1990 after his release from 27 years in prison and the two men remained extremely close in the following years.
Under apartheid, Tutu campaigned against white minority rule and was awarded the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize.
Mandela appointed him to lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and has said that Tutu’s contribution to the country was immeasurable.
Tutu, who first baptised South Africa as the “rainbow nation” at the first all-race elections in 1994, in May this year declared that he would not vote for the ANC anymore because of “the way things have gone”.
Tutu has presided over the funerals of some of South Africa’s top politicians including that of struggle activist and communist stalwart Chris Hani, whose death at the hands of a right-wing gunman 20 years ago plunged the country into crisis.
Early this year, Tutu pleaded with Mandela’s family not to “besmirch” his name after they were engaged in a public spat fuelled by a legal dispute over a burial site.