Mandela's friend recalls life in Qunu

2013-06-12 21:56
(Picture: AFP)

(Picture: AFP)

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Qunu - The oldest man in Qunu sits on the ground outside his thatched mud hut looking at the grand, fenced in face brick house on the other side of the highway.

"That there is Mandela's house," says Kekena "Steve" Mangwambi, 93, who locals believe is the oldest man in the village where former president Nelson Mandela spent his boyhood.

"I remember when he [Mandela] came out of prison and he found me here. He wanted me to experience what it was like to fly.

"He took me up [in a helicopter] and we went to visit the king of Pondoland and after that we flew to see Matanzima [George Matanzima, the former leader of the Transkei]."

Mangwambi, who wears navy-blue slippers, blue denim trousers and a hooded grey top that is fraying at the hem, says he is kept up to date on Mandela's health by radio news.

Mandela, 94, was admitted to hospital with a recurring lung infection on Saturday. He is reported to be in a serious condition.

On Wednesday, President Jacob Zuma said Mandela was responding well to treatment.

Mangwambi has not seen his friend in a long time, but does remember many good times. He recalls when Mandela pointed out where he wanted his house to be built in the village.

"It was next to Gladwell's house," Mangwambi says as he sips from a jug of traditional beer. "Gladwell was my father," he says proudly.

Mandela wanted all the houses in Qunu to have the same facilities as his, including electricity.

"When we met the last time, he said to me that our parents' home was not built to his satisfaction. He wanted it to look like his house. But we never got to meet again. He became ill and he started being admitted to hospital."


Mangwambi says that contrary to what is widely believed, Mandela was not born in Mvezo, around 30km away, but in Qunu.

"He was born here in Qunu," says Mangwambi.

"Most of his life was here.

"Mvezo was where he officially installed Mandla [Mandela] to take charge [of the Madiba clan]."

He says he and Mandela would never discuss politics when they were together.

"We only ever spoke about family and friends and traditional things."

He chuckles when he recalls how Mandela was given the name Nelson by a teacher at the Qunu Junior Secondary School.

The teacher couldn't pronounce Mandela's first name Rolihlahla.

Mangwambi says what he misses most about Mandela is his ability to make things happen.

"He was a man who translated any wish I had into action. I will miss that about him."

Mangwambi, who has a young face and a beaming, healthy complexion, believes that people from Qunu are blessed with long lives, and he would not be surprised to see his friend living for many more years.

"People from Qunu are good people. We do not hurt anyone. For that God blesses us with long lives."

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  mandla mandela  |  jacob zuma  |  east london

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