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 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
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

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Activists for Peace Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified boarder, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs