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ELECTION 2022

Arch's body won’t be buried or cremated, it will be aquamated

AFRICA
By Sara Okuoro and Reuters | Jan 2nd 2022 | 5 min read
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba gestures as Archbishop Desmond Tutu's coffin arrives at St. Georges Cathedral for his lying in state, in Cape Town, South Africa, December 30, 2021. [Reuters]

Revered South African anti-apartheid fighter Desmond Tutu was yesterday bade farewell in a state funeral at the St George's Cathedral in Cape Town.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, according to the Archbishop Tutu IP Trust and the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, “was very clear on his wishes for his funeral”.

“He wanted no ostentatiousness or lavish spending,” said the foundations. “He asked that the coffin be the cheapest available, and that a bouquet of carnations from his family be the only flowers in the cathedral.”

As per Arch’s wishes, his body was aquamated in a private ceremony after the Requiem Mass and interred behind the pulpit.

But what is aquamation?

It’s nothing new really - aquamation has been around since the late 1880s! It was developed by farmer Amos Herbery Hanson to process animal carcasses into fertilizer. It was later used in labs to dispose of contaminated animal bodies.

The process has, however, gained popularity in recent times as a preferred alternative to the more traditional six-feet-underground burial or fire cremation.

Aquamation, also known as alkaline hydrolysis, is a water-based cremation process that is commonly used to dispose of human or pet remains.

It is considered to be more eco-friendly compared to flame-based cremation owing to the fact that it uses less fossil fuels and produces fewer emissions.

The process is commonly misunderstood as dissolving a body in acid – this is not the case.  

First, the body is placed in a silk bag, and then put in an Alkaline Hydrosis Machine – this is basically a metal tube containing a high-pressure mixture of water and potassium hydroxide heated up to 150°C for about one and a half hours. The body tissue is dissolved in the process and only the bones remain. These are rinsed at 120°C, dried and ground to powder using a cremulator.

The ashes are then handed to the bereaved and can either be kept, buried or scattered as per the deceased’s wishes.

Desmond Tutu wished to be interred behind the pulpit at the St George's Cathedral, Cape Town. He had served at the Anglican Diocese as Archbishop for 35 years.

Tutu was the best kind of troublemaker

President Cyril Ramaphosa lauded the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu as "our moral compass and national conscience" as South Africa bade farewell at a state funeral on Saturday to a hero of the struggle against apartheid.

"Our departed father was a crusader in the struggle for freedom, for justice, for equality and for peace, not just in South Africa, the country of his birth, but around the world," Ramaphosa said, delivering the main eulogy at the service in St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, where for years Tutu preached against racial injustice.

The President then handed over the national flag to Tutu's widow, Leah, known as "Mama Leah". Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1984 for his non-violent opposition to white minority rule, died last Sunday at the age of 90.

His widow sat in a wheelchair in the front row of the congregation, draped in a purple scarf, the colour of her husband's clerical robes. Ramaphosa wore a matching necktie.

Cape Town, the city where Tutu lived for most of his later life, was unseasonably rainy early on Saturday as mourners gathered to bid farewell to the man fondly known as "The Arch".

The sun shone brightly after the Requiem Mass as six white-robed clergy acting as pall bearers wheeled the coffin out of the cathedral to a hearse.

Tutu's ashes will be interred behind the Cathedral's pulpit in a private ceremony.

"Small in physical stature, he was a giant among us morally and spiritually," said retired Bishop Michael Nuttall, who served as Tutu's deputy for many years.

Life-size posters of Tutu, with his hands clasped, were placed outside the cathedral, where the number of congregants was restricted in line with COVID-19 measures.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who leads the global Anglican Communion, said in a recorded message: "People have said 'when we were in the dark, he brought light' and that... has lit up countries globally that are struggling with fear, conflicts, persecution, oppression."

Tutu's family members were visibly emotional.

His daughter, Reverend Nontombi Naomi Tutu, thanked well-wishers for their support as the Mass began, her voice briefly quivering with emotion.

'Rainbow nation'

Widely revered across South Africa's racial and cultural divides for his moral integrity, Tutu never stopped fighting for his vision of a "Rainbow Nation" in which all races in post-apartheid South Africa could live in harmony.

Hundreds of well-wishers queued on Thursday and Friday to pay their last respects as his body lay in state at the cathedral.

As Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Tutu turned St George's into what is known as a "People's Cathedral" a refuge for anti-apartheid activists during the turbulent 1980s and 1990s when security forces brutally repressed the mass democratic movement.

A small crowd of around 100 people followed the funeral proceedings on a big screen at the Grand Parade, opposite City Hall where Tutu joined Nelson Mandela when he gave his first speech after being freed from prison.

“We have come to give our last respects to our father Tutu. We love our father, who taught us about love, unity and respect for one another,” said Mama Phila, a 54-year-old Rastafarian draped in the green, red and yellow - colours of her faith.

Mandela, who became the country's first post-apartheid President and who died in December 2013, once said of his friend: "Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour, Desmond Tutu's voice will always be the voice of the voiceless."  

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No burial or cremation: What happened to Desmond Tutu’s body
As per Desmond Tutu's wishes, his body will be aquamated in a private ceremony after the requiem Mass and interred behind the pulpit.
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