News / Africa

Reporter's Notebook: Looking at South Africa, Post-Mandela

Candles are lit under a portrait of former South African President Nelson Mandela in his ancestral village of Qunu December 15, 2013.
Candles are lit under a portrait of former South African President Nelson Mandela in his ancestral village of Qunu December 15, 2013.
Scott Bobb
VOA Correspondent Scott Bobb spent a great deal of his 36-year VOA career covering Africa and South Africa in particular while based in Johannesburg from 2006 to 2011. He offered these reflections on the funeral of Nelson Mandela before leaving Qunu this week.
 
Stepping carefully down the still-muddy tracks of Qunu, past the small houses painted pink and green, past the cows grazing in the yards, the chickens pecking on porches and the clothes drying on barbed wire fences, I finally have a chance to reflect on the recent days and the last rites accorded to this world statesman, favorite son and extraordinary man.
 
The clouds hang heavy in the sky, almost touching the hills they have greened around the Mandela family compound. The house is large but not opulent.
 
The tent-cathedral and surrounding marquees that were used for the funeral are beginning to come down.
 
The national highway a few hundred meters from the house is open to traffic again. Motorists stop to snap pictures. It seems as if people can’t let go. They need one more photograph, one more souvenir, to hang in the museum of their life memories.

Dignitaries and family

VOA Correspondent Scott BobbVOA Correspondent Scott Bobb
x
VOA Correspondent Scott Bobb
VOA Correspondent Scott Bobb
The authorities did an amazing job of erecting hospitality tents and organizing accommodation, logistics and security for the hordes of visiting dignitaries: more than 100 current and former heads-of-state and celebrities from Bono to Oprah all of whom seemed to have a life-changing story to tell about one of their encounters with Nelson Mandela.
 
There were murmurs about how protocol for the luminaries and the state funerary excluded villagers and clan-members of Qunu from the ceremonies and failed to follow their traditions and their rites. Most residents were obliged to watch the funeral on television from another hill across the valley. But they came dressed in mourning clothes and dabbed their eyes just as if they were a few meters from the coffin.
 
Many of Madiba’s extended family were also excluded from the farewells. Only the closest members were invited.
 
Yet, the family was most generous in allowing the government, the country, the world to participate so intrusively in what many would have preferred to be a private time with the patriarch who was invisible to them for 27 prime years of his life.
 
One could argue that they were used to it, having had to share for so long their favorite uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather with countless millions around the world who reacted as if it was their father, grandfather or great-grandfather who had passed.
 
The ceremony, too, seemed dominated by state formalities: the military pallbearers, the drab olive caisson that carried the casket, the barrage of speeches by the famous and not-so famous.
 
Yet, the people had their moments. Sixty thousand attended the memorial service in Johannesburg. One hundred thousand viewed the body lying in state in Pretoria. Tens of thousands lined the streets for the funeral processions in Pretoria and Eastern Cape. And millions watched television broadcasts live on just about every major network in the world.

Residents of Qunu
 
So, as I kick a clump of sod down a street in Qunu, I think of the residents I have met and the more personal stories they told me.
 
One lady received a scholarship through the patriarch. She now heads the Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu.
 
Another lady met him as a teenager when he was released from prison in 1990. She remembers his humility and serenity as she works in customer relations at a local supermarket.
 
Yet another recalls attending the Christmas parties Mandela hosted at the compound. He said for many, the gifts they unwrapped there were the only Christmas presents they received that season.
 
Another recalls that when Mandela was freed there was no electricity in Qunu. Now it is available to all but the poorest of the poor.
 
Schools, clinics and community centers, small but neat, dot the countryside. The highway links the remote town to Durban, Cape Town and beyond.
 
Many speak of the unfinished business of South Africa, the chasm between rich and poor, the avarice of the ruling class, the poor governance of elected leaders.
 
Yet, standing on a hillside in Qunu while the clouds sink lower to the ground, one cannot help but remark what has been accomplished in the mere two decades since the country moved from repression and despair to the freedom and opportunity-though still incomplete-of today.
 
One last thought as I prepare to leave. Mr. Mandela, even in death, had the grace to take his time, to linger, so that the people could become accustomed to life without him, so that a government could prepare the massive formalities that would be needed to carry off one of the great funerals of the time.
 
So the long goodbye has come to an end. Though his memory will linger among the living, Nelson Mandela now belongs to history, to those who came before and those who are yet to come.

You May Like

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

Euro falls after European Central Bank announces a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program More

Saudi King’s Death Clears Succession Route

Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef is Saudi Arabia's New Crown Prince-in-waiting More

Cloud Hangs Over US Counterterrorism Efforts in Yemen

Sources say resignations of Yemen's president, government has left US anti-terror operations 'paralyzed,' yet an American military 'footprint' remains More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid