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

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs