Cape Town (AFP) -
South Africans streamed into a Cape Town cathedral on Thursday to pay their last respects to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the globally venerated anti-apartheid icon, whose body lay in a modest pine coffin.
Six Anglican clerics carried the coffin into St George's Cathedral, where the Nobel Peace laureate once railed against white rule and was formerly archbishop, and placed it near the altar.
The simple coffin, which bore a small bouquet of carnations, was in line with wishes for modesty expressed by the much-loved rights advocate before he died.
In sharp contrast, typical funerals in South Africa are elaborate, expensive affairs.
The tireless spiritual and political leader passed away peacefully aged 90 on Sunday. He is to be cremated, with his ashes to be buried on Saturday.
Tutu's body will lie in state throughout Thursday and Friday to allow as many people as possible to say their final goodbyes. Reverend Gilmore Fry told AFP that the rite had been extended to a second day over fears of a possible stampede.
Ordinary South Africans of all races and ages started streaming into the Anglican church as soon as the doors opened to the public.
Among them was Liz Cowan, a 65-year-old white social worker, who grew up in apartheid South Africa being told that the charismatic black cleric was a dangerous man.
'He was so vilified. It was only as a teenager that I realised he was a good guy,' she recalled, standing in a queue reflecting a country that Tutu dubbed the 'Rainbow Nation'.
A young girl sporting a purple top paused briefly before the coffin, making the sign of the cross in the Christian tradition.
Among the mourners was a woman wearing a purple Muslim veil -- the colour many are donning to evoke Tutu's trademark clerical robes.
Lucille Helleger, who heads the Anglican women?s fellowship group in Cape Town, was also in the queue.
'He never saw you as a person of colour or any other denomination. You were all, as he always said, the 'rainbow people',' she said.
Earlier Thursday, the church held a private service for the family, including Tutu's widow Leah.
- 'No ostentatiousness' -
The coffin was opened for the family to view the body and they sang the late archbishop's favourite hymn, according to Tutu's successor, Thabo Makgoba.
Following a private cremation, Tutu's ashes will be interred inside the cathedral, whose bells have been pealing in his memory for 10 minutes at midday every day since Monday.
Hundreds of people have flocked to St George's -- where Tutu served as the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town for a decade until 1996 -- to lay flowers and sign a book of condolences.
Tutu led a harrowing journey into South Africa's dark past as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which exposed the horrors of apartheid in terrible detail.
South Africa is marking a week of mourning for Tutu, with the country's multi-coloured flag flying at half-mast nationwide and ceremonies taking place every day until the funeral.
Tutu 'fought the good fight, he has finished his race,' said Reverend Frank Chikane, a cleric who led anti-apartheid protests through the 1970s and 1980s and was regularly detained by the state.
He spoke at a memorial service held by the Anglican Church in Johannesburg.
Saturday's funeral service will be simple in line with Tutu's wishes.
'He wanted no ostentatiousness or lavish spending,' said his foundation, adding that Tutu even 'asked that the coffin be the cheapest available'.
Tutu also asked that military rites be limited.
In line with Covid-19 restrictions, the numbers of mourners attending the funeral will be restricted.
Weakened by advanced age and prostate cancer, Tutu had retired from public life in recent years.
He is survived by his wife Leah and four children.