16 July 2011 by Julienne du Toit

A visit to Nelson Mandela’s home village of Qunu

South of Mthatha, beyond the infuriating Stop/Go roadworks and crazy taxis breaking every rule is the quiet settlement of Qunu.

This is where Nelson Mandela grew up after being born in nearby Mvezo. Qunu is really a thin smear of about 18 small villages loosely held together. So insignificant was it been that older maps don’t feature it at all.

Qunu is a peaceful place. Homesteads are surrounded by chickens, sheep, goats. In summer cowdung is spread on fields in expectation of rain. Ducks and chickens patrol the dusty roads. Children wave at you.

On the other side of the busy N2 road is a huge brick complex that is Nelson Mandela’s retirement home. When he’s here, he comes with no fanfare. The only sign that he has arrived is that the South African flag is raised.

Perched on the opposite hill, sheltering under an enormous curved shade roof, is a series of small buildings - the Nelson Mandela Youth and Heritage Centre.

The people of Qunu chose this site for several reasons. Close by is the sliding rock, where young Mandela used to slide on his backside until he could barely sit down.

Also near is the school he used to attend - the ruins of the old rondavels are settling into the earth now. This is where he was allegedly given the name western name Nelson.

Around the corner is the old trading store where the Nelson the child first saw a white person. The shop itself is no longer. All you can see is the old house where the trading family lived.

This area is also where he used to look after his family’s cattle. In the distance is the stone church where he was baptised.

Inside the gates of the Centre, we meet local guide Zim Gamakhulu.

He grew up in this village and lived roughly the same life as young Mandela would have - herding cattle and stick-fighting for fun. We ask him what it used to be like before Qunu became famous.

“It was a lousy village,” he says flatly. “No water, no electricity, no visitors. Now, I like it.”

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