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

Computer Crash Halts US Visa, Passport Operation

Problems with database have resulted in extensive backlog of applications, affected State Department's consular offices all over the world More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

World Bank: Boko Haram Stalls African Aid Projects

Islamist group’s terrorism sets back agriculture, health efforts in Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria 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.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid