Qunu, a village deep in mourning

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The sun rises over the home of Former President Nelson Mandela's home in Qunu, Eastern Cape. Picture: Adrian de Kock

Qunu - They came to Qunu to celebrate the life of the “father” who fought for their freedom. But instead they found a village in mourning.

“In Joburg, people are so alive; it’s a true celebration of his life there,” Nandipha Maka told Weekend Argus. “Here people are just mourning.”

Maka joined Bukelwa Thonjeni-Mabandla and Zoleka Thonjeni, journeying from Mthatha, to arrive at the gates of the home of Nelson Mandela on Friday.

They were hoping to celebrate his life with local villagers, but instead were met by an eerie stillness.

For most of the day, villagers were seen quietly continuing with their lives, with most declining to speak to the media.

Several military Nyalas, three police vehicles and a handful of soldiers stood firmly outside Madiba’s homestead to maintain security.

“We heard about his passing at about 5am this morning and felt we just had to come pay our respects because we used to come to his birthdays and it would be so wonderful… he was so generous,” explained Thonjeni-Mabandla on Friday.

The trio vowed to return every day until Madiba’s funeral next Sunday to pay their last respects to the man who “taught us peace”.

Buyelekhaya Zwelinzima Dalindyebo, the king of the AbaThembu clan, also paid his respects to his grandfather.

“On Monday, the king is inviting all the Thembu chiefs to hold a prayer meeting (at Madiba’s home) at 11am,” Mtirara said, adding Dalindyebo would remember Madiba as a father, member of the family and father of the nation.

Paul Setsetse remembers his first few encounters with the larger-than-life statesman, Nelson Mandela.

Setsetse was at a loss for words, his body was shaking. “It was as if it were not real,” he lamented.

But yesterday Setsetse was not shaking nor was he at a loss of words as he walked across the N2 to place a bouquet of flowers at Madiba’s Qunu home gate. He was the first person to lay flowers at the closely guarded gate, and even as police and security guards approached, he didn’t step back. Moments later, two young women also laid flowers.

“I used to work for the justice department when he was the state president. I was also spokesperson for the justice department during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” he said.

Setsetse remembers travelling with Mandela to the Northern Cape after a youngster stabbed a fellow student with scissors in school. “I was personally invited by him to accompany him there and he was just a different human being… a different person than others,” he continued. Setsetse, a businessman now, said when he heard of Madiba’s passing, he was “shocked” inasmuch as he knew he had been unwell.

“His passing came as a shock not just to South Africa, but to Africa and the world. I just thought it befitting to come to pay respects to Tata in his home and express my sincere condolences to his family.”

*Buy any Independent weekend newspaper for the special Nelson Mandela supplement.

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