Qunu: Discovering Nelson Mandela’s roots

Qunu - Nelson Mandela's birthplace
Qunu – Nelson Mandela’s birthplace

It’s impossible to drive along the N2, see the road sign for Qunu, and not be inquisitive about the place where Nelson Mandela was born and grew up.

It is like most of the Eastern Cape — serenely beautiful.

Qunu still has the remains of the primary school where he started Grade One and at which the teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave him the name ‘Nelson’ on his first day of school; the remains of the old stone church where he was baptised;  the granite ‘sliding’ rock he used to slide down with friends;  the pastures where he roamed as a young shepherd;  his original home where his mother presided over three huts.

It was also an apt place to stop and think about how the Eastern Cape has gone so horribly wrong — a province where the future has gone horribly awry — where so many people have lost all sense of purpose and the ethic of work.

I had driven through kilometre after kilometre of fertile but fallow land, clearly showing how once-productive agriculture has been forsaken.  I’d learned how the system of social grants encourages people to stay at home — with a couple of old age grants, supplemented by taking in some AIDS orphans or child support grants, a family income exceeds what they can earn in the workplace.

It reminded me of Thabo Mbeki’s badly-misjudged presentation to the IOC in Lausanne in 1997 for Cape Town’s Olympic Bid, where he told the IOC that they “owed it to us; it’s Africa’s turn.”  When will Africa learn that patronage comes with a price and the only way to achieve anything is through collective hard work?

In Qunu, I visited the Nelson Mandela Youth & Heritage Centre – a component of the Department of Arts & Culture’s Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha – which hosts exhibitions, tours and offers accommodation and conference facilities.

Apart from the guide, Akela, Kenya & I were the only other souls there.  Photographs are not permitted in the exhibition on Mandela’s life, so no mementos!  The guide was a local and recalled a hard life growing up in a rural village.  But he confirmed that the social grant system has destroyed the soul of the people.

Qunu: Serenely beautiful, yes, but a place of fond memories and sadness.


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