Qunu - As the work to prepare for one of the world’s biggest funerals intensifies, the security lockdown around the valley village of Qunu has become a nightmare for many locals following announcements that access in the area will be strictly controlled.
While security personnel have encouraged villagers to postpone their shopping until after the funeral of Nelson Mandela, the family of Nombulelo Khwatsha say they’ve been left in limbo in respect of a funeral of their own – that of their 78-year-old grandmother, which was planned for Saturday.
On Friday night the N2, the only route that leads to Qunu, was closed and authorities could not give the family assurances about whether their visitors would be allowed to attend the funeral, less than 3km from the Mandela homestead.
On Friday morning, while military jets flew overhead and Nyalas and foot soldiers combed the usually serene village, the Khwatsha homestead was abuzz with activity as male relatives brought in loads of wood, large cooking pots and dishes that would serve hundreds of people expected to attend the funeral. By 8am, men had already started slaughtering the first two of the nine sheep, while women milled around the homestead preparing for the first mourners, set to come from East London, Butterworth and Ngcobo.
All would use the N2 to access the home.
Khwatsha’s daughter Felicity Mgoqi was adamant that the family would go ahead with the funeral, but admitted they were afraid that their guests would be turned away after police head, Colonel Mzukisi Fatyela, announced during a press briefing that the N2 would be off-limits to the general public from 9pm on Thursday. Only those accredited to attend the Mandela funeral would be allowed access.
Mgoqi said that while they had been given assurances by traffic authorities that their visitors would be allowed into the village to pay their last respects to Khwatsha, she was worried that they could be turned back.
“We are expecting a lot of people, mostly from outside Qunu, but at the same time we are also very worried about the road closures. My mother died two days before Tata, and we were happy that their funerals didn’t clash because we knew that if they were on the same day this would make things impossible for us.
“We hope they won’t turn anybody away because we have made all the preparations. We want our mother to have a decent funeral also, just like Tatu’uMandela,” she said.
Brian Dube, spokesman for Government Communications Information Systems (GCIS), couldn’t give any assurances regarding the Khwatsha relatives.
“We are trying to get the local municipality to co-ordinate things pertaining to this funeral. One suggestion was that the family postpone it for another date. We are still consulting with the municipality. We hope they can postpone it successfully or, if the family refuses, we will have to make a plan on how relatives can get to the funeral,” he said.
Meanwhile, for other villagers life is going on as usual, with some observing traditional rituals. One of the Mandela homesteads celebrated the initiation of their son by having Umngcamo. Traditionally, the ceremony is held a week after the circumcision. It marks the first time the initiate drinks water and eats meat after the actual circumcision.
A family member said even though there was death in the family, the ceremony had to be done as the initiate had to return from the mountain next week.