Mandela the boy was a ‘gobbler’

By Sipokazi Fokazi Time of article published Dec 12, 2013

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Cape Town - As the world mourns the death of Nelson Mandela, his extended family in the villages of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape are starting to reflect on the good times they once shared with the global icon, including his healthy appetite.

As a young boy he became known as “the new boy (who) gobbles all the food”, the Yako family in Qokolweni, where Mandela spent some of his childhood years, remembered.

He had come to this village in the mid-1930s to finish his higher primary education. Since there was no Standard 5 (Grade 7) in Mqhekezweni Great Place where Mandela spent most of his formative years and where he was groomed for kingship, Mandela was sent to Qokolweni to study before he went to Clarkebury Senior Secondary School at Ngcobo.

He spent a year in this village with his aunt, Mandinga Yako, the eldest sister of No-England - the wife of Tembu King, Jongintaba.

The Yako family gathered to pray to “release Mandela’s spirit” and to share the good times that they once had with him.

Wycliffe Zwelibanzi Yako, 75, remembered the jovial time the villagers from Qokolweni once had with Madiba when he visited the family in September, 1990 -seven months after he walked out of Victor Verster following 27 years of imprisonment.

Playing a DVD the family had of the day of Mandela’s visit, Yako remembered how humble yet courageous Mandela was, and how he managed to reach out to everyone in the village regardless of their social status.

“I remember the visit was meant to be a private visit. Bantu Holomisa had informed us of his intention to visit a day before, and when he showed up a day later, he was accompanied by Chris Hani.

“But the minute people saw a convoy of cars coming our way, they just gathered around within no time. When Madiba came out, people just burst with joy and started ululating endlessly,” he said. Given the fact that it was private family visit, Yawa recalled how he expected Mandela’s bodyguards to disregard the villagers.

“But that was not Madiba’s style. He just welcomed everybody… the children adored him… they just gathered around him and wanted to touch him. It was amazing how he connected with everybody… we were all astounded by his charisma,” he said.

In the video, Mandela shares with the villagers in Xhosa how he played stick fights with younger men in the village, and how he helped a herds- man who looked after his aunt’s cattle. He also tells the villagers of his first few days there, and his encounter with a relative by the name of Sisana who had complained to elders that “the new boy (Mandela) gobbles all the food” when they ate together as children.

“I had to be given my own dish so that Sisana could eat peacefully,” he says, to the amusement of the villagers.

On the video, Mandela also shares how important it was for him to go back to a place where he was brought up and given love, as he considered this a blessing. He also tells the villagers how important education is.

“White people are seen as progressive people because of the support they get from their homes. Even if you are illiterate, you must encourage your children to study… ask how they learnt at school, if they have done their homework and so on. It’s important to give your children education… it’s the best inheritance you can give your children,” he said.

Another relative, Nokhaya Yako, said while Mandela had left the country an impressive legacy, she was concerned that his ideals wouldn’t last.

“I’m sad that he has died. With all the infighting and corruption that is happening within our liberation movement, I worry whether we will be able to overcome all the social ills that Tata encouraged us to fight.

“Maybe it’s a good thing that he’s gone too soon…I’m sure if he was still healthy, he would be ashamed of what is happening,” she said.

Cape Argus

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