CAPE TOWN - South Africa's retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu will attend the funeral on Sunday of his friend and fellow anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, his spokesman said on Saturday, signalling a change of heart after a dispute over his invitation.
Tutu, like Mandela a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had earlier said he would not be going to the burial service in Qunu in Eastern Cape province because he had not received a formal invitation or any indication that he was on the guest list.
Britain's Prince Charles and U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson are among a selected group of foreign dignitaries who will be attending the funeral ceremony for Mandela, South Africa's first black president who died on Dec. 5 aged 95.
The government said no specific invitation had been issued to Tutu, but added the official accreditation he had used at a memorial for Mandela in Johannesburg on Tuesday would allow him to attend the funeral if he wished, and he was welcome to do so.
"Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will be travelling to Qunu early tomorrow to attend Tata's funeral," the Tutu family's spokesman, Roger Friedman, said in a statement sent to Reuters.
"Tata", meaning father in Xhosa, is a term by which Mandela is affectionately known in South Africa. Friedman offered no further explication for Tutu's apparent change of mind.
The earlier contretemps over whether Tutu had been formally invited risked marring the funeral and raised questions about the outspoken Anglican clergyman's strained relationship with the current South African government and ruling African National Congress.
"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 had said in a previous statement announcing his non-attendance.
The dispute had threatened to sour the atmosphere for Sunday's solemn event as Mandela's body arrived at his ancestral home of Qunu ahead of the burial service.
At a mass memorial ceremony for Mandela on Tuesday in Johannesburg, Tutu was not initially on the speaker's list but he was eventually invited to the podium and tried to calm an unruly crowd that had booed President Jacob Zuma.
In his autobiography "Long Walk to Freedom", Mandela described Tutu as "a man who had inspired an entire nation with his words and his courage, who had revived the people's hope during the darkest of times".
Since the end of apartheid in 1994, Tutu, 82, has become a fierce critic of the ANC, accusing it of losing its way and straying from the ideal of a "Rainbow Nation" of shared prosperity that he and Mandela had envisaged.
Tutu has criticized Zuma's leadership and in 2004, under then President Thabo Mbeki, he accused the ANC of promoting "kowtowing" and said its black economic empowerment policies were helping only a small elite.
Tutu remains one of the country's leading moral lights and chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body set up after the end of apartheid to examine human rights abuses.