News / Africa

Qunu Celebrates Life of Its Favorite Son

A screengrab taken from the South African Broadcasting Corporation live feed shows members of the South African armed forces standing around the coffin of late former President Nelson Mandela before it is lowered into the grave during his funeral in Qunu, Dec. 15, 2013.
A screengrab taken from the South African Broadcasting Corporation live feed shows members of the South African armed forces standing around the coffin of late former President Nelson Mandela before it is lowered into the grave during his funeral in Qunu, Dec. 15, 2013.
Hannah McNeish
— Driving through South Africa's Eastern Cape to Qunu was like being in a constant carwash, with five days of sheet-like rain turning asphalt into puddles and dirt roads into rivers. The local people attributed this highly unseasonal and stupendous amount of water to Nelson Mandela's death, as in his Xhosa culture rains before a funeral mean the heavens are preparing to greet a great man.

Others on a journey spanning more than 700 kilometers south from Johannesburg said that the gods were crying.  Their tears were so great that a chocolate-colored river almost touched the bridge that links the village of Mqhekewenzi, where Mandela's adoptive Thembu royal family live, to the rest of the world.

Chief Zanomthetho Mtirara poses with his leopard skin and a young picture of his adoptive "grandfather" Nelson Mandela, who was taken in by the Thembu royal family at the age of 9 when his father died. (Hannah McNeish/VOA)Chief Zanomthetho Mtirara poses with his leopard skin and a young picture of his adoptive "grandfather" Nelson Mandela, who was taken in by the Thembu royal family at the age of 9 when his father died. (Hannah McNeish/VOA)
x
Chief Zanomthetho Mtirara poses with his leopard skin and a young picture of his adoptive "grandfather" Nelson Mandela, who was taken in by the Thembu royal family at the age of 9 when his father died. (Hannah McNeish/VOA)
Chief Zanomthetho Mtirara poses with his leopard skin and a young picture of his adoptive "grandfather" Nelson Mandela, who was taken in by the Thembu royal family at the age of 9 when his father died. (Hannah McNeish/VOA)
The Thembu King took in the future president at age nine, after his father died, and nicknamed him “Tatomkhalu,” or grandfather.  Mandela became just that to the king's grandson, Chief Zanomthetho Mtirara.  The chief promised this week that as soon as Mandela's body was brought back to his boyhood village of Qunu, the driving rains that rendered umbrellas and mascara so useless would clear up.

“You wait, on Saturday the weather will change and it will be beautiful,” he said.

And he was right.  The sun beamed down on an almost cloudless Qunu.  Sodden sheep scattered themselves across the hilltops as Mandela's coffin, flanked by police motorbikes and followed by an array of large military vehicles, arrived at his modern house perched atop a hillside otherwise full of small conical homes.

After a week of dismal weather ruining photos, on Sunday the small village literally glowed, and faces beamed as people mourned the father of the rainbow nation.

  • In this video frame grab, military officers escort former South African President Nelson Mandela's casket as it arrives at his burial site following his funeral service in Qunu, Dec. 15, 2013.
  • Former South African President Nelson Mandela's coffin arrives at the family gravesite for burial at his ancestral village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province, 900 km (559 miles) south of Johannesburg.
  • A woman wipes away a tear while watching the funeral of former president Nelson Mandela on a big screen at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg.
  • Three helicopters fly over the gravesite during the burial of Nelson Mandela in his hometown Qunu.
  • Military personnel line the route as former South African President Nelson Mandela's casket is taken to its burial place in Qunu.
  • General view of the tent where the funeral service for former South African president Nelson Mandela is taking place in Qunu.
  • South African President Jacob Zuma sits between Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Nelson Mandela's former wife, and Nelson Mandela’s widow Graca Machel, right, attend the funeral service for former president in Qunu.
  • People stand outside the dome where the funeral of former South African president Nelson Mandela is taking place in Qunu.
  • Chief Mantanzima speaks during the funeral service for former South African president Nelson Mandela in Qunu.
  • The casket bearing the remains of former South African President Nelson Mandela is brought into a tent for his funeral service for in Qunu.
  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu is hugged as he arrives for the funeral service for Nelson Mandela in Qunu, South Africa.
  • Members of the Mdakane family watch a television in their home showing the funeral service of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela in the Soweto township, Johannesburg.
  • Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, left, Nelson Mandela's former wife, left and Nelson Mandela’s widow Graca Machel stand over the former South African president's casket during his funeral service in Qunu.
  • British entrepreneur Richard Branson, right and television host Oprah Winfrey attend the funeral service for former South African President Nelson Mandela in Qunu.
  • Two people follow the proceedings of Nelson Mandela's funeral on a big screen in Nelson Mandela square in Sandton, Johannesburg.

One of eight gunners chosen to fire the 21-gun salute at Mandela's gravesite, Lance Bombadier Fumani Bulebesi, was bright and sunny despite having been up since 2 a.m. to guard the site next to the funeral tent.

She remembers the call coming in to ask her to take part in Mandela's send off.  "It was a good feeling.  He was a hero and he is still a hero for us,” she said.

Her colleague Captain Tozuma Mali had a premonition that she would get sent to Qunu to fire the guns, but said she would have come anyway.  “I am who I am today because of this man.  Because he made the change.  Long live the spirit of Nelson Mandela,” she said.

Dickson Gangatele, 71, chose to watch the funeral on TV as his eyesight was too poor to join the rest of Qunu's residents, who had turned out to try to sneak a glimpse of the proceedings in a large white tent in a field hundreds of meters away.

He recalls a conversation he had with Mandela in 1995, soon after the end of apartheid. 

“When you went to Robben Island we thought you would give up.  We thought Nelson Mandela was wasting his time.  These whites were never going to go.  But you did not give up, you were a strong man," he says he told the late president.  "And he shook my hand and smiled.”

For his daughter Weziwe Gangatale, the fact that none of Qunu's residents could take part in Sunday's funeral was “strange” for a man who used to hand out Christmas presents to the local children at his home on top of the hill.

“Mandela was living with us all these years, and we are not even in the funeral.  It was too controlled and people here say it is the government's fault,” she said.

Mandela's death attracted dignitaries from across the globe, but also many ordinary South Africans like Pumane Ngocwane, who drove for 12 hours to be in Qunu.

“My neighbors, when I told them I was going to Qunu, said that I would not see anything.  But here I am talking to people from all over the world,” she said, wearing a dress she had made especially for the event.

“I did not want to watch this on TV.  I wanted to see things live.  I wanted to put my foot in Qunu and feel the soil,” she said.

A four-person band named after Mandela's clan, “The Madiba Beat Crew” had been dancing from the wee hours outside his home in Johannesburg's upscale Houghton district when VOA met them nine days ago.  They used all their profits from selling Mandela memorabilia to get to Qunu in their home state, as in Xhosa culture, you have to pay your respects to a great man in person; the TV does not suffice.

“Now we have no money for fuel to get back,” said singer Thandie Bushala, with a wide grin on her face as she stomped out another Mandela tribute just meters from his home.

For the moment, she dances in the sun - a sign, perhaps that Madiba is now in heaven and is looking down on his village and his nation as they begin to learn how to get along without him.

You May Like

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid