Preparations for Nelson Mandela's burial today were marred by a public spat between the South African government and retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the most prominent survivors in the long anti-apartheid struggle.
Tutu, a Nobel laureate who has strongly criticised the current government, said in a statement yesterday that he would not be attending Mandela's funeral, even though he wishes to pay respects to his long-time friend.
He said he was not invited - an apparent snub that the government vehemently denies.
"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 (Mandela) to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral," Tutu said in the statement. "Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome there is no way on earth that I would have missed it."
Tutu, 82, said he had cancelled his plans to fly to the Eastern Cape to attend today's funeral after receiving no indication that his name was on the guest list or accreditation list.
However, Mac Maharaj, a spokesman for the South African presidency, said Tutu is on the guest list and that he hopes a solution will be found that allows Tutu to attend.
"Certainly he is invited," Maharaj said. "He's an important person."
Maharaj said he did not know whether Tutu had been invited to eulogise Mandela but was certain an invitation to attend had been issued.
Tutu has preached at the funerals of most major anti-apartheid figures, including Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Walter Sisulu and others.
Tutu's daughter, the Reverend Mpho Tutu, said in a statement earlier yesterday that her father had not been accredited as a clergyman at Mandela's funeral, to be held in Mandela's home village of Qunu.
Maharaj said no credentials were needed.
The issue highlights occasional frictions between Tutu and the current government of President Jacob Zuma.
Two years ago, Tutu, an anti-apartheid hero often described as South Africa's conscience, slammed the ANC-led government as "disgraceful" for not issuing a visa to the Dalai Lama. He said it was worse than the country's former oppressive white regime.
At that time, South African foreign ministry officials denied they stalled on the visa because of pressure from China, a major trading partner.
Tutu, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his non-violent campaign against white racist rule, had invited the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel laureate, to South Africa to celebrate Tutu's 80th birthday.
The Dalai Lama's office said he was calling off the visit because he didn't expect to get a visa.
Tutu accused the South African government of failing to side with "Tibetans who are being oppressed viciously by the Chinese". He also charged Zuma with ignoring the contribution religious leaders made to toppling the white Nationalist Party.
Before April 2009 elections propelled Zuma to the presidency, Tutu had said he was so sceptical of the ANC leader he was considering not casting a ballot.
Tutu cited a rape trial in which Zuma was acquitted and corruption charges that were dropped just before the vote.
Tutu worked closely with Mandela and served as one of the anti-apartheid struggle's most visible public figures during the 27 years when Mandela was imprisoned.
He was the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created by Mandela's government which investigated apartheid atrocities, and he delivered the final report to Mandela in October 1998.