Qunu – a changed village

Mandela’s old friends and relatives acknowledge his legacy, writes Sabelo Skiti.

As his birthday approaches this week, the neighbours of former president Nelson Mandela do not know where they would be without him.

In his home village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape, the residents of mud-and-brick rondavels hail him as the bringer of civilisation, electricity, running water, a clinic, community centre, schools and even a church.

Qunu was bustling this week ahead of Mandela’s birthday as many are expected to converge on his old homestead along the N2 highway near Mthatha, where the celebrations will be taking place.

Every year, his birthday attracts influential personalities from across the globe.

But to the common people who live there it’s a reminder of a giant.

Nombulelo Ngcebetshana (84) painted a bleak picture of life in the village before her cousin became a world icon.

She said: “Before, we had no water, we used to get water from the dam and streams with the pigs.”

All the amenities and services Qunu has now were secured through private donors and government initiatives.

One structure which is critical to life in the small village is the Thusong Centre, donated to Madiba and his people by AECI in 2001.

There, residents can find a post office, an office of the department of home affairs; as well as a

community hall, an arts and culture centre, a library and a computer school.

The post office is extremely useful for residents to photocopy and certify official documents, load airtime and access some banking services.

Some of the elderly also receive life-saving chronic medication there, posted to them by family members with better access to medicines in urban areas.

Since the home affairs office has never had a printer that can print temporary documents, it is a bit of a white elephant, as villagers are still forced to travel to Mthatha.

The Thusong Centre employs 14 people directly, all from Qunu, including 10 caregivers who undertake HIV/Aids-related work in the community.

Centre administrator Ntombi Ntondini said: “People here, especially the elderly, appreciate the services provided here because it limits the number of times they have to travel to town.”

Ntondini, a 31-year-old single mother of six-year-old girl Iviwe, landed her first-ever job when she was employed at the centre in April, and she is grateful.

“There’s little chance of me getting married, but I can provide for my child and my family as well,” she said.

Among the throng who use the centre is Nogengile Ndabayithethwa (59) and her seven-year-old

orphaned granddaughter, Siphosethu, who travel from a nearby village.

Sphosethu’s mother passed away in 2009. Ndabayithethwa was there to renew little Sphosethu’s child grant.

“This grant for orphans does help because our pay is not enough to feed and clothe these children.

“How would it have been like this without someone standing up? (Madiba) stood up and now things are good.”

Also within walking distance of the villagers is their brand-new brick church recently built for them by Madiba’s wife, Graça Machel.

Also in Qunu is one of two sites of the Nelson Mandela Museum, launched in 2007. It boasts exhibitions, accommodation, village tours, as well as conferencing facilities.

And with it, jobs for villagers.

This week government launched the latest legacy project – the R127-million Nkosi Dalibhunga Mandela legacy bridge, whose name was revealed by President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday at a function in nearby Lujondolo village.

Dalibhunga is the royal name Mandela was given as chief of his birthplace, Mvezo – a title now held by his heir and grandson Mandla.

When completed early next year, the bridge will, through a 10km tarred road, connect the villagers of Mvezo to the town of Dutywa along the N2.

Symbolically, it will also bring together the Thembu and Xhosa nations, which have been divided by the Mbhashe river.

Of Mandela, Zuma said: “He must be a reminder of bringing people together . . . He was brought back from Robben Island, by the very same people who put him there, to unite South Africa. We need to remember him at all times for his contribution.”

Ngcebetshana has an old ANC picture of the elder statesman hanging on the wall of her mud-and-brick home next to old family pictures.

Every year since he’s come back she’s looked forward to his birthdays with glee.

“That man really loves us. During his birthdays we go there,” she said.

“The next week we family members get invited to have supper with him at the same table.”

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