Archbishop Desmond Tutu has cancelled his flight to South Africa and will not attend Nelson Mandela's state funeral, after receiving "no indication" that he was invited.
In a statement Archbishop Tutu said he would have "loved to attend" the funeral in Mandela's home village of Qunu, in South Africa's Eastern Cape, on Sunday, but he believed he was not welcome at the event and did not wish to "gatecrash".
"Much as I would have loved to attend the service to say a final farewell to someone I loved and treasured, it would have been disrespectful to Tata to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral. Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome there is no way on earth that I would have missed it."
There are conflicting reports about whether the Archbishop has been excluded from the event. South African government officials insisted they had not sent any official invitations for Sunday's state funeral, which is due to be attended by Prince Charles and at least 26 heads of state and Government representatives.
However, a government spokesperson said that had Archbishop Tutu or his representatives called to confirm he wanted to attend he would have been able to, as he is on an accredited list of people who had attended Mandela's memorial service.
Spokeswoman Phumla Williams said: "With funerals they [the government] don't send invites [but] they do have a list of accredited people. If he [Tutu] had called, we would have given him accreditation. They would never have turned Tutu away... there were no malicious shenanigans."
Mac Maharaj, speaking for South African President Jacob Zuma, said Archbishop Tutu was on the guest list and that he hoped he would still be able to attend. He told AFP: "I have been checking and he [Tutu] is definitely on the list. He is not an ordinary church person, he is a special person in our country."
The Minister for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency, Collins Chabane, told the eNews Channel in South Africa that church leaders were seeking to clarify the situation with Archbishop Tutu.
But critics said the apparent snub could be a result of Tutu's public criticism of the African National Congress. The Archbishop, a close personal friend of Mandela and a leading campaigner for his release from prison, said in 2011 that "one day we will pray for the defeat of the ANC government". He did show support for President Jacob Zuma at Mandela's memorial service, pleading with the crowd to stop jeering Zuma.
Allister Sparks, a veteran journalist and biographer of Tutu, told The Guardian: "I don't know what to make of it. I would have thought he belonged there. Tutu has been quite a vocal critic of the ANC. It comes as a surprise and arouses suspicions of a political motivation behind it."
The South African Government says the guest list had been drafted by Church officials and the Mandela family. But this was denied by the Mandela family. In a statement, a spokesperson said: "The family is not involved in who should come and not come at that level. They are busy mourning. It is the state that is encouraging people to attend or not attend. I'm not aware of any exclusion."
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