South Africa's retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu will not attend the state funeral on Sunday for his friend and fellow Nobel peace laureate and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, his family spokesman said on Saturday.
The spokesman, Roger Friedman, said the Anglican prelate was not accredited as a member of the clergy for the event in Qunu in Eastern Cape province, but government officials insisted he was on the guest list. Mandela, who died last week at the age of 95, had a close friendship with Tutu forged in the struggle against apartheid.
So his absence from the global icon's final farewell raised questions about the outspoken clergyman's strained relationship with the current South African government and ruling ANC party.
"The archbishop is not an accredited clergy person for the event and will thus not be attending," Friedman said, citing a statement made by Tutu's daughter the Reverend Mpho Tutu. Asked about Tutu's attendance, foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela told Reuters: "Desmond Tutu is definitely on the guest list".
"I suspect the issue here is whether he would have provided any official duties as a clergy person ... he may have taken a decision not to attend the funeral," he added.
The controversy emerged as Mandela's body was being flown to the Eastern Cape province for Sunday's funeral, which will be attended by Britain's Prince Charles and US civil rights activist Reverend Jessie Jackson, among others.
At a mass memorial ceremony for Mandela on Tuesday in Johannesburg, Tutu was not initially on the speaker's list but he was eventually invited to the podium and tried to calm an unruly crowd that had booed President Jacob Zuma.
In his autobiography 'Long Walk to Freedom,' Mandela warmly described Tutu as "a man who had inspired an entire nation with his words and his courage, who had revived the people's hope during the darkest of times."
Since the end of apartheid in 1994, Tutu, 82, has become a fierce critic of the ruling Africa National Congress (ANC), accusing it of losing its way and straying from the ideal of a "Rainbow Nation" of shared prosperity that he and Mandela had envisaged.
Tutu has criticised Zuma's leadership and in 2004, under then President Thabo Mbeki, he accused the ANC of promoting "kowtowing" and said its black economic empowerment (BEE) policies were helping only a small elite.
Mbeki gave a scathing response, saying Tutu's comments on economic empowerment were "entirely false" and accusing him of "empty rhetoric". Tutu remains one of the country's leading moral lights and chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body set up after the end of apartheid to examine human rights abuses.