AS he skips along a footpath down a hill in Qunu, eight-year-old Linamandla Mazwi laughs as he shoots twigs in the air with a wooden slingshot he made for himself.
Mazwi moulds cows, horses and birds out of clay, just like Nelson Mandela, who turned 94 on Wednesday, did when he was an eight-year-old in the same village in 1926.
And whereas Mandela and his friends skidded down large smooth rocks on their backsides, Mazwi and his buddies kick “soccer balls” made from plastic bags strung together.
Life for this shy young boy is much the same as it was for Mandela then – a rural life, where cattle, sheep, goats and horses still graze on common pastures, even though it’s only 30km from city life in Mthatha, the former capital of the Transkei.
Mazwi’s home and the Mandela homestead are two of the biggest of about 40 smallholdings in their section of Qunu, within 2km of the No-Moscow primary school, which Mazwi attends, and the N2 highway.
Both homes on the top of adjacent hillsides overlook other smallholdings of huts and houses that dot the landscape.
Mazwi, who shares his home with 14 relatives including a twin sister, Lithemba, chats about friendly umlungus (white people) who handed out books at his school on Tuesday.
He didn’t know their names were Bill and Chelsea Clinton, the former US president and his daughter, who also visited Qunu to wish Madiba well.
Although Mazwi can see Madiba’s home from his house, “I’ve only seen him on TV and I’m not so sure why he is important,” the boy said.
He dreams of becoming a soldier, artist or pilot.
“I want to fight for South Africa because I love South Africa.”
Yet he doesn’t intend ever leaving Qunu. “I will miss my grandmother too much.”
Back in 1929 Mandela was heartbroken when he had to leave Qunu.
After the death of Mandela’s father, the young boy was taken under the wing of the traditional ruler of Thembuland, King Jongintaba Dalind-yebo.
It was at the king’s royal palace in Mqhekezweni 20km north of Qunu that Mandela picked up leadership and negotiation skills by watching the king hold tribal council and make rulings.
In time, Mazwi will find out how his neighbour went on to conquer SA and the world.
And one day, the boy may also leave Qunu to search for his destiny.