Proud community must watch from afar
Old friends speak glowingly of Mandela – but they are not invited to tomorrow’s funeral
Xhosa men in an elder’s home before slaughtering a cow as part of a a ceremony in Qunu, ahead of the funeral of Nelson Mandela. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Popi Sandla (85): knew Mandela well and remembers fondly how, even after he became president, he had time for the villagers. Photograph: Peter Murtagh
Babalwa Mangqwambi (25): like Mandela, a member of the Madiba clan, she cannot attend today for lack of an invitation. Photograph: Peter Murtagh
Kekane Geledwane (92): “I would like to go there but I do not have an invitation.”
There are two worlds in Qunu right now.
One is the world of whirring helicopters, police and soldiers, all heavily armed and casting about the place rings of steel, road blocks and red zones like snuff at a wake.
The other world is the day-to-day goings on of the people of Qunu. Their place is a scattering of about 200 homes, many no more than a room or two in size, some the traditional circular, mud and thatched, single room dwelling of picture postcard Africa.
Qunu is a small hamlet, with the homes spread out on either side of a valley, itself perched on the shoulder of a much broader valley of undulating pasture land.
Most of the homes are small holdings and sheep, goats, young cattle, miniature hairy black pigs, chickens, turkeys and geese wander about the place, perfectly at ease with humans and often, in fact, wandering in and out of homes.
Many of the holdings have timber post stockades into which animals are placed at night. People grow some crops as well – maize and potatoes mostly.
The whole scene is earthy, pastoral and humble.
It is no surprise that the people of rural Qunu are enormously proud of the most famous person ever to emerge from their community, or ever likely to. They speak of him glowingly as the man who brought them water, electricity and a new school – not to mention the vote and an end to state-sponsored racial discrimination.
A huge marquee has emerged above Qunu, just a little beyond Mr Mandela’s house, a pastel pink home behind twin electronic gates and with a small structure in the middle for a security guard.
Beyond the marquee in the graveyard, a tall square canopy has been erected, presumably above the open grave that awaits.
No local invites
But the people of Qunu will not be part of the funeral ceremony tomorrow. Or at least none that were spoken to yesterday said they would.
“I would like to go there but I do not have an invitation,” said Kekane Geledwane, a 92-year-old friend of the late president, who lay on a blanket on the grass behind his home as sun baked the sandy red clay of his maize field.
Geledwane knew Mandela very well. After he became president, the latter was wont to drop into Qunu as and when official duties, opening a school for instance, brought him to the Eastern Cape.
He would take Geledwane and other village men of his generation on a helicopter ride to wherever he was going.It was a wonderful treat.
Popi Sandla, who is 85, also knew Mandela well and remembers fondly how, even after he became president, he had time for the villagers.
“He used to walk over all these streets here and ask people how they were,” she told me yesterday. She would like to walk across the valley to the funeral but her legs are no longer up to it – and she has not been asked.
Babalwa Mangqwambi (25), like Mr Mandela, a member of the Madiba clan, is also unable to go for lack of an invitation.
Likewise, the parents of Kuhle Pretty (17), told her she would not be able to go “because I don’t have a card to get in”.
“It’s not fair,” she says. “We all want to see the Mandela funeral.”
The big marquee is said to hold 4,000 but, as of yesterday, it seems that local people from Mr Mandela’s village will not be among the dignitaries that fill it tomorrow.
There is talk of another tent in the village and a large television screen for them.