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
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

Photogallery Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs