Tutu’s death has caused grief among South Africans, world leaders, for the rest of his life in the fight against injustice.
The funeral began with a hymn and a group of religious leaders burning incense and carrying candles to the church where Tutu will be laid to rest on Saturday.
Known for his modesty, Tutu offered the advice of a simple, unobtrusive ceremony, with a cheap box, charitable donations instead of paying homage to flowers and natural warmth.
The important mass began at 10am (08:00 GMT) at Cape Town’s St George’s Cathedral where, for many years, Tutu used the altar to insult the white supremacist regime.
That is where they will be buried.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who will address the gathering, thanked Tutu for his special funeral, which is usually held by the president and the most important people.
She will also present a multi-colored South African flag to Tutu widow Leah, in memory of her husband describing the post-apartheid world as a “rainbow country”.
“While we were in the dark, he brought light,” Canterbury Archbishop Justin Welby, leader of the Anglican Church worldwide, said in a video message shown at an important Mass celebrated in honor of Tutu on Saturday at St George’s Cathedral.
“For me to thank him is like a mouse giving a tax to an elephant,” Welby said. “South Africa has given us amazing examples of prominent rainbow leaders and President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu … most of the power of the Nobel laureate has dwindled over time, but Archbishop Tutu has shone.”
‘Life is welcome’
South Africa has been holding a week of mourning, which culminated in two days in office.
Thousands of people, some of whom traveled throughout the country, passed a very small box containing pine needles, adorned with a variety of piles.
Under a gloomy and windless sky, mourners were ushered into the cathedral. Rain, according to historian Khaya Ndwandwe, is “a blessing” and indicates that Tutu’s “soul” is welcome in heaven.
The mourners were close friends and relatives, religious leaders and guests, including former Irish President Mary Robinson, who will officiate.
Among the mourners was Elita, the widow of the last apartheid leader FW de Klerk, who died in November.
One of Tutu’s closest friends, the Dalai Lama, who did not appear at the funeral. Unable to walk due to aging and restrictions on COVID, a representative of Ngodup Dorjee, told AFP reporters outside the church.
Tutu’s longtime ally, retired bishop Michael Nuttall, former dean of the Anglican Church when Tutu was archbishop of Cape Town, will deliver the sermon.
The two formed a strong bond, which shows many how a white leader can work for a black leader. Nuttall went on to write a memoir called Tutu Number Two about their relationship.