Madiba’s village a military zone

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AP

Members of the SANDF march past Nelson Mandelas house in Qunu as they prepare for his funeral on Sunday. Picture: Schalk van Zuydam

Eastern Cape - It’s official. The village of Qunu, which Nelson Mandela called home, has been taken over by the military ahead of his funeral on Sunday.

At midday on Thursday, more than 20 buses filled with SANDF soldiers, several police vehicles, military medical vans and firefighter trucks arrived in convoy along the N2 from the direction of Mthatha and parked on the perimeter of Mandela’s homestead at Qunu, alongside the N2.

At the weekend, the area will be a no-fly zone, and the SA Air Force will have Gripen fighter jets in the air to enforce this. The Gripens are expected to watch over Madiba’s remains as the coffin is transported from Air Force Base Waterkloof on Saturdaty and flown to Mthatha Airport.

On Thursday afternoon, four steel pillars were erected around the Qunu gravesite, the marquee next to it was up, and the temporary auditorium nearby, built to accommodate 4 000 people, had been almost completely covered with white sheeting.

Construction vehicles surrounded Mandela’s gravesite as workers continued working on the area where he will be laid to rest.

By 1.30pm, the sound of the military band practising the processional music reverberated throughout the village.

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A huge metal structure was erected for Nelson Mandelas funeral near his home in Qunu.

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By 3pm, the marching band, divided into contingents of soldiers dressed in camouflage gear and red berets and those dressed in blue uniform, were practising their marching along the N2, parts of which have now been closed to the public.

The beefed-up stringent security rules saw groups of photographers and journalists moving out of the homes they had rented inside Qunu, after high-ranking officials banned the media from taking pictures of the house, the preparations and the troops.

Traffic was diverted from the N2 along roads through the village to get from neighbouring towns such as Dutywa, Gcuwa (Butterworth) and East London to Mthatha, and will continue to be diverted until after the funeral.

According to sources, the Mandela family and those close to the family were being issued late on Thursday with tags to gain access to the premises for the funeral.

Sandile Mandela, the late Morris Mandela’s grandson, said: “We have a great loss as a family… so this is not a period of excitement or happiness for us.”

Morris Mandela was Mandela’s cousin, and died last year.

“We don’t know what will happen now because a lot was upheld by him in the family. We looked to him for many things. We know it pained him that his siblings passed on before him, he was so strong for so long,” said Sandile.

He said there would be a traditional and national funeral on Sunday. “On the traditional side, a cow needs to be selected by an elder at the family kraal to slaughter on the morning his body arrives home,” he said.

The meat will be boiled and eaten by elderly men of the family as per the abaThembu custom.

Vuyisile Mandela, an elder, said he was going to the funeral and was awaiting his tag.

As soldiers moved through the village, locals seemed largely unperturbed but noted that they had armed guests in their midst. Children playfully emulated soldiers as they practised their marches, stopping shyly and laughing at one another when seen by adults walking by.

John Sadlongwane, 77, said he had heard that villagers who were not from the family would be allocated a place from which to watch the funeral.

“Tata is gone. There’s nothing we can do about it. We’ll watch from the road,” he said.

vuyo.mkhize@inl.co.za

The Star


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