All races rally to condemn church atrocity: Archbishop Tutu's passionate plea for an end to South African violence is cheered at service for victims

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The Independent Online
'WE ARE the rainbow people of God,' explained Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 'and we are unstoppable, black and white, as we move to freedom, to justice, to democracy, to peace.'

'Jesus,' declared Bishop Frank Retief, 'was not a political revolutionary. Our strength is drawn from the Cross, the blood-stained Cross.'

The burial yesterday of four of the 12 people who died in the massacre at St James's Church, Cape Town, on Sunday night provided the occasion for a show of force by the city's clerics, all determined in their different ways to help heal the wounds brought about by the worst outrage South Africans can remember.

It is not a question of numbers. For a dozen to die in one attack is an almost weekly occurrence in Tokoza, Katlehong, Sebokeng and other black townships on Johannesburg's outer perimeter. But never before in South Africa, a deeply religious country, have gunmen opened fire on a church congregation at prayer.

Two events marked the burials yesterday. First, in the City Hall, Anglican Archbishop Tutu shared a podium at a gathering for peace with prominent local Catholic, Muslim and Jewish clerics. The chamber - austere and chandeliered - was packed brimful with people of all races, determined to voice their protest at Sunday's massacre and to dramatise their solidarity with the bereaved.

Archbishop Tutu, of all the speakers, brought the house down. Every sentence, exuberant gesture, dramatic pause set off a drum-roll of applause. None of the victims on Sunday was black but his rhetoric, even if perhaps half the audience was white, echoed the oration for the 42 killed in June last year in Boipatong. Religion and politics blended defiantly into one.

'We the people of Cape Town are united by this atrocity and are saying no to violence. We are saying one death is one death too many. If these people do what they do in Cape Town, in Katlehong, in Tokoza to separate us, we say no] You have failed] You have succeeded only in bringing us together.' And arms outstretched, high above his tiny figure, he concluded, to a standing ovation, with a straight quotation from the ANC's Freedom Charter: 'This South Africa belongs to all of us]'

When they had stopped cheering, the rainbow people proceeded outside the City Hall to form a symbolic human chain around the Grand Parade, an area twice the size of Trafalgar Square. Archbishop Tutu's image seemed apt. A young man with a pony-tail and an earring held hands with a blue-rinse white matron in pearls who held hands with a portly black lady wrapped in a blanket.

At St James's Church, meanwhile, the funeral service was under way. St James's belongs to South Africa's Church of England, a conservative, charismatic but multi-racial denomination with no links to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Retief, a vociferous critic of liberation theology, gave the main address.

No talk of freedom or democracy here, the bishop spoke of justice not on earth but in the hereafter. 'We are struck down but we are not destroyed . . . the mutilated bodies will come back perfect before God on the Day of Judgement when this evil deed will not go unpunished.' But, in his own way outdoing Archbishop Tutu in hope and generosity, he called on the killers to repent before it was too late 'and accept our forgiveness'.