As news about Nelson Mandela’s health looks slightly brighter, in Qunu, the small Eastern Cape village he calls home, that sacred place where he will one day be buried has become a topic of some contention.
In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela describes the “rolling hills” of his childhood memories.
But today, traditional authorities there are at odds over where the icon, who spent 27 years in jail before going on to become South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994, will be laid to rest.
Some believe the best place would be in the backyard of his Qunu home, but others say it will be more fitting if he is buried in the Mandela family graveyard in Qunu.
Although Madiba was born in nearby Mvezo, the family moved to Qunu soon afterwards. He spent his early childhood years, until about the age of nine, in Qunu, and has chosen to return there in his twilight years.
Mandela, who will turn 95 on July 18, is in a serious but stable condition in a Pretoria hospital.
The area presently being prepared for his burial is on the highest hill, closed to Madiba’s Qunu homestead, not far from the N2 highway.
Jonas Jongisizwe “JJ” Ndzambule, the traditional chief of eastern and central Mthatha, about 35km from Qunu, said this was the ideal burial site for Madiba.
“It’s appropriate that the man be buried in his own homestead. In our traditional system, the man is the head of the family and he’s normally buried next to his kraal, next to his house,” he said.
The royal family of Qunu, however, believes Madiba should be buried at the Mandela family gravesite, about 500m from Mandela’s homestead, on the opposite side of the N2.
The site is visible from a distance because it is marked by trees arranged in a square.
Many of Madiba’s relatives have been buried there, including his father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, and his mother, Nosekeni.
Today a 96-year-old female cousin of Madiba, Florence Mandela, is set to be buried at the Mandela family gravesite.
And Nonyameko Balizulu, niece of the female traditional chief of Qunu Nokwanele Balizulu, said “the most special” place for Madiba to be buried would be the Mandela family gravesite in Qunu.
“He must not be separated from his family in the graveyard. Because his forefathers are there, he must be placed there,” Nonyameko said during an interview yesterday morning.
Because the chief was absent, she said, she was the chosen royal representative for the day at the Qunu chief’s homestead.
When Nonyameko was told that Ndzambule believed Madiba should be buried at his homestead, the young woman answered: “We have different opinions.” Ndzambule explained: “The issue of a graveyard is something we don’t know because it’s a Western concept for family members to all be buried in the same graveyard. It’s not traditional. In our culture, the head of the family must be buried at his own homestead, unless he never had a homestead.”
Then there’s Patekile Holomisa, chairman of Contralesa, the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa, who’s adamant that Mandela should be buried in “his parents’ garden”, where they were buried.
Prince Xhanti Sigcau, a member of the Amampondo royal family which together with the Thembu royal family, of which Mandela is a member, make up the Xhosa nation, said: “I can’t speak for the Mandela family, which is from the Thembu clan. I am from the Mpondo clan. I can’t poke my nose in how the Thembu should do things.
“But what I can say is that it depends on each individual family how they want to handle these things.” - Saturday Star