Madiba magic in Qunu

2013-12-14 00:00

NELSON Mandela was shocked when he returned from prison to find Qunu without electricity or running water, and “the countryside littered with plastic bags”.

The bags — which he called “a blight” — still bloom on the fields, against fence posts and in the erosion gullies where Mandela swam “in crystal streams” as a boy. Residents this week said Qunu had “hardly grown”.

But the candy-coloured huts and houses are lit up at night nowadays, communal water taps dot the village, and Qunu was visibly neater than other villages along the N2, south of Mthatha this week — even before a sudden roadside clean-up yesterday.

Kuhle Ngqeleni, grade 9 pupil in the neighbouring village of Empa, says: “It is still poor, but Qunu was the first to get electricity, and it definitely has better opportunities for people than other villages in the area. I know a girl from there who got a bursary to study medicine. Obviously, Madiba’s presence or maybe his inspiration has improved things there.”

But Ngqeleni lives a typically bizarre life in Mandela’s clan area: “I am connected to the whole world through my smartphone, but I don’t even have running water in my house, and we still use pit toilets.”

Yesterday, at a briefing in Upper Qunu, overlooking the valley, the Xhosa king, Zwelonke Sigcawu said, “At least 10 schools in the kingdom have been built due to the influence of Mandela”.

Mandela also established new classrooms, and a computer and biology lab at a school in Qunu in 1995, after winning a corporate donation through business mogul Bill Venter.

Gudizwa Soyaya, a newly graduated tour guide in Qunu, said Mandela’s shock discovery in 1990 — that “pride in the community appeared to have vanished” — was no longer true.

“People have rediscovered their pride here; you are seeing it this week, with the hospitality, and the sharing,” she said.

Soyaya said that “in addition to my job!” — Mandela had built a church, a primary school, welfare income, “and other infrastructure here and there”, and “put us on the map”.

His revamp of the village in 1995 also included electricity, and, in his retirement, Mandela refocused on opening health clinics in the area — including clinics dispensing drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, despite a government stance against drug roll-out.

Mandela’s two other boyhood villages — Mvezo, where he was a toddler, and Mqhekezweni Great Place, where he spent his teenage years — have had opposite fortunes.

Mvezo has enjoyed two years of sustained infrastructure development, including a new tar road this year, thanks largely to the intervention of his grandson, Mandla Mandela.

By contrast, Bloomberg media reported this week that Mqhekezweni — the mission station where Mandela once felt like “a yokel”, due to its first-world buildings and tended lawns — now featured “dilapidated” and vacant buildings, and no sign of any lawn.

The hut that Mandela shared with his cousin still stands, but needs a fresh coat of paint. The house that the regent occupied is dilapidated and vacant, the doors boarded up.

Tall and well-spoken, Ngqeleni plays goalkeeper in her school soccer team — but said: “There is nothing for us to do in this area; all the young people have to leave.”

She said Qunu’s gradual upgrade had “little effect” on neighbouring Empa and that she hoped the new focus on the area, and a potential tourism pilgrimage to Mandela’s home and last resting place, would kick-start development.

“Really, he has done so much for us otherwise, he now needs to rest, but if good things can happen for this area now, he would be glad about it,” she said.

“In Empa, we have to rely on water tanks — the tap is very far to walk to. And the pit toilets are full — it is a health problem. But what bothers me is that you never hear about someone from Empa who has done anything; who has made it. We need opportunities, even if it has to come from a sad thing like our beloved Madiba’s passing.”

Ngqeleni added: “I held his hand in I think 2005, at the Christmas party when Oprah came — I’ll never forget it.”

Qunu villager Andiswa Vinjwa said she had been able to raise one disabled child and three other children thanks only to Mandela’s introduction of child support grants as president.

“Madiba helped me a great deal. If he had not introduced child support grants, I would not have been able to bring up my children,” she said. “My husband died a few years ago and I am currently unemployed. I rely on the social grants to support my children.”

She said she was getting a R1 260 disability grant for one of her children and R300 in child support grant for three others. “Let his soul rest in peace,” Vinjwa said.

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