Nelson Mandela burial: Qunu awaits final return of its most famous son

Amid the squabbles and chaotic preparations, residents speak of their pride in Mandela

Qunu

The last act of the long farewell to Nelson Mandela will be the smallest of the many ceremonies, with around 400 gathering around the graveside. There will be a few dignitaries, Prince Charles and Bill Clinton among them, and members of government, but the rest would be those who may have been overshadowed by the international nature of events so far – his family, friends and tribe elders.

Madiba, as his countrymen call him, will be laid to rest at Qunu, a rural village where he spent much of his youth, whose population has been doubled by the media, officials, police and the military in the last few days.

Around 4,000 more people will arrive for the broader funeral ceremony. Workers were busy with final preparations, putting up marquees against a backdrop of rondavels (round mud huts). Another group was paving a road from the front of Mr Mandela’s house to Mthata, the town with the nearest airport where a military aircraft bearing the former president’s body and other official flights will land on Sunday.

There was, however, an element of lack of planning which has been a mark of the proceedings. There is a worry that Mthata airport, which handles two commercial flights a day, may not be able to cope with 100 due on Sunday.

“If the weather is OK we’re likely to land at Mthatha. If the weather is bad, we will have to land at East London and then move by road,” said Collins Chabane, a minister in the presidency. That would mean, with the slow pace of a cortège, a journey of up to four hours blocking a main route.

The memorial service to Mr Mandela, at a stadium in Soweto with 91 heads of state present, took place with one-third of the seats empty, partly because officials had asked people not to turn up because key roads would be blocked off and there was a lack of buses. Those inside then booed the President, Jacob Zuma, delaying his keynote address.

This embarrassment has been overtaken by the affair of the sign language interpreter translating, among others, Barack Obama into what turned out to be gibberish. Yesterday, in the latest twist in the tale, it was revealed the man, Thamsanqa Jantje, may have faced a murder charge in the past. The US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs demanded to know how such a person was allowed to get so close to world leaders.

There have also been complaints about the forthcoming burial, including from the Thembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, who has reportedly threatened to boycott the ceremony.

Mr Mandela’s family has historic connections with Thembu royalty, and the king, according to custom, was due to play a key role in the rituals. According to differing accounts, he had been upset by the presence of President Zuma, who he loathes, and considered Mr Mandela’s grandson playing a principal part in hosting the event as a breach of protocol.

A villager sits in her garden at the perimeter of Nelson Mandela’s property in Qunu, 559 miles south of Johannesburg A villager sits in her garden at the perimeter of Nelson Mandela’s property in Qunu, 559 miles south of Johannesburg There were also complaints from humbler citizens. Some in Qunu said they felt excluded. “It is very painful not to be able to attend the funeral. We are people of this area, the place where he grew up. We were staying with him,” said Simesihile Soyaye. Her grandmother, Noumvula, insisted: “It was his wish for us to be there. When he moved to Johannesburg, he told us that although he might have gone, we would get to see him even if he was dead.” She pointed out a viewing platform that was “too far for old people like me to reach”.

Others worried about the long-term welfare of the residents of Qunu. Even as the birthplace of the nation’s founder, it had lacked resources in health and education and now, with Mr Mandela gone, there were fears it would be forgotten by the government.

A young Nelson Mandela watched his father die in front of him in a hut, probably of lung cancer, although the exact cause was not known because he had never had a chance to be diagnosed by a doctor.

Joshua Mzingelwa, leader of the Morians Episcopal Apostolic Church, pointed out that, decades on, Qunu only had a small, one-room clinic. Moses Gqwarhu, a trader, pointed out that Mr Mandela had to leave Qunu to get his education. “After his father died, he was adopted by a great chief [Jongintaba Dalindyebo, acting regent of the Thembu] and he was the one who sent him to college. Would he have become a great leader if he had remained in Qunu? Even now, very few from here ever go to college; we cannot see Qunu providing another leader of this country.”

Other villagers said this was not the time to raise such issues. “We must just remember how lucky we were to have Madiba,” an elderly man stressed. “How many places have such an honour?”

On Sunday afternoon the military escort will hand over Nelson Mandela to his family and tribe, the national flag covering the coffin will be  replaced with a traditional Xhosa blanket, and Madiba will be back among his own people.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Financial Analyst

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Financial Analyst is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Business Support Administrator - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the South West'...

Recruitment Genius: Secretary

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This major European Intellectual Propert...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£130 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher Jan 2015 - July...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness