Be informed. Be challenged. Be inspired.

South Africans intrigued by Desmond Tutu’s choice of aquamation

Cape Town, South Africa

Anti-apartheid hero Desmond Tutu’s choice of aquamation over cremation or traditional burial came as a surprise to some South Africans, while others were impressed by this environmentally conscious move.

By opting for aquamation Tutu, who died on 26th December aged 90, joined a growing “green burial” movement centred around the use of biodegradable materials and natural decomposition.

South Africa Cape Town Desmond Tutu memorial stone

A candle is placed next to an inscribed memorial stone, where the ashes of the late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu are laid to rest, at the St George’s cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa, on 13th January. PICTURE: Reuters/Shafiek Tassiem.

In aquamation, the body is submerged in an alkaline solution in a metal chamber and heated until it dissolves. This leaves only the bones which are baked and ground to a powder to be returned to the family. 

“You’re supposed to go in the ground right? You’re supposed to be buried, not put away like that,” was 79-year-old Stanley Mini’s gut reaction.

Aquamation is increasingly popular in some countries like the United States, but in Africa, where burial is the tradition, it was an unusual choice.

“I was like: how did the Arch come to know of aquamation?” said Pieter van der Westhuizen, general manager of one of South Africa’s largest funeral homes Avbob, which was used by the Tutus, referring to Tutu by his affectionate nickname.

“We [didn’t] know…how big he was on going green. I was very glad to hear that,” he told Reuters TV.

Aquamation advocates say its avoids the emission of climate-warming gases produced by cremation and uses 90 per cent less energy. 

“I would choose water – I actually feel good about him choosing water instead of fire,” said Cape Town resident Cameron Ruiters, 22. 

Following aquamation, Tutu’s remains were interred in an wooden box beneath the floor of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.



sight plus logo

Sight+ is a new benefits program we’ve launched to reward people who have supported us with annual donations of $26 or more. To find out more about Sight+ and how you can support the work of Sight, head to our Sight+ page.



We’re interested to find out more about you, our readers, as we improve and expand our coverage and so we’re asking all of our readers to take this survey (it’ll only take a couple of minutes).

To take part in the survey, simply follow this link…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.