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Qunu Locals Prepare Their Own Mandela Celebration

  • Hannah McNeish

A general view shows funeral preparations being made around the property of late former South African President Nelson Mandela in Qunu, Eastern Cape, Dec. 12, 2013.

A general view shows funeral preparations being made around the property of late former South African President Nelson Mandela in Qunu, Eastern Cape, Dec. 12, 2013.

Millions of people will watch the funeral Sunday of Nelson Mandela, as South Africa's first black president and a champion of human rights is laid to rest at his boyhood village of Qunu. While the media and politicians arrive for the event, local people are planning their own celebrations for a man who rose from humble beginnings to transform the nation.

Outside what looks like a small home as you enter the village of Qunu, men offload beer for a tiny bar illuminated by lights over a billiards table and whose back room has more than 500 cases stacked to ceiling height.

The bar will host a celebration of Nelson Mandela's life Sunday as locals join the world in saying a final goodbye to the great statesman.

Eric Mjamba has been trucking meat and beer for the festivities back and forth from the nearest city of Mthatha. He said that Sunday morning - when Mandela is lowered into the ground at his hillside home - will be a somber event for the people here.

More than 90 world leaders gathered in Johannesburg on Tuesday for a memorial service honoring the late South African President Nelson Mandela. Below are excerpts.

  • South Africa's President Jacob Zuma: Mandela was a "fearless freedom fighter who refused to allow the brutality of the apartheid state" stand in the way for a struggle for liberation.
  • President Barack Obama: "Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals."
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "His compassion stands out most. He was angry at injustice, not at individuals."
  • Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff: "His fight went way beyond his national border and inspired men and women, young people and adults to fight for independence and social justice."
  • India's President Pranab Mukherjee: "He was the last of the giants who led the world's struggles against colonialism and his struggle held special significance for us."
  • Cuba's President Raul Castro: "Mandela has led his people into the battle against apartheid to open the way to a new South Africa, a non-racial and a united South Africa."
  • China's Vice President Li Yuanchao: "The Chinese people will always cherish the memory of his important contribution to the China - South Africa friendship and China-Africa relations.''
“Most of the people, when the body comes here of the old man, they will cry, as they liked the old man. Like myself, like myself I liked the old man, and something will happen in my heart,” said Mjamba.

But 20-year-old Pila Angel said he expects that everyone here, after Sunday's funeral, will celebrate Mandela, or "Tata" as most people called him.

“It means a lot to me, it means a lot to me, because he was the one that gave us the freedom," he said. "We are free because of him. A lot of people will be celebrating. That's all. Because, you know, after the funeral, everybody's going to celebrate. Especially for Tata, everybody's going to celebrate.”

Khumbuzile Gubenale is one of the lucky 20 people who is helping to build a tent where dignitaries and family members will gather for the funeral service. This is practically the only event that local people can contribute to, as arrangements for the great statesman's funeral are largely being handled by officials at the national level.

Gubenale, who turns 21 on Sunday, said the day will be a mix of tears, old stories and jubilation as the area's youth remember a man who has inspired so many, in a village that would have otherwise disappeared into obscurity.

“Mr. Mandela, for this community, has influenced the youth, to inspire youth to go to school. Because we've always been told that it's always important to go to school, as school is the key to success," he said. "Without school, there's no job.”

Gubenale hopes to become an accountant, rather than following in Mandela's long footsteps of the law, as he believes black Africans need to play a greater role in the country's economy.

His memory of the great man was forged when he was 13, and like other village children, went to the Mandela house to receive a Christmas present. But rather than play with the toy soldiers handed out, it was the fact that the bearer held their hands that kept Gubenale and his friends talking.

“That day to me, I was very happy to meet Mr. Mandela that day, because I hold his hands, and Mr. Mandela gave the presents, and then we know that, after we arrived home, we will play, we will be happy chatting with friends, and chatting with friends to say, how do we feel, to hold Mr. Mandela's hand,” said Gubenale.

But like everyone else in Qunu, he expects Sunday evening, after the tears have dried, to be a celebration for a man who left his mark on the world and his heart in South Africa.

“There must be no people who will be sad there. Everyone must enjoy as Mr. Mandela will not be back. Even if we are sad, Mr. Mandela is resting there. He's watching us,” he said.

Gubenale said he hopes the future might bring another hero, to continue Mandela's legacy, and to continue South Africa's long walk to freedom.

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