Qunu in the Eastern Cape, where Nelson Mandela grew up. Photo: Bongiwe Mchunu

A South African flag sways back and forth from a tall pole inside the grounds of Nelson Mandela’s home in Qunu.

The flag has been high up on the pole for a little more than six weeks, a signal to villagers that Madiba, as he is affectionately known, is back in his rural home 30km south-west of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape.

While the country’s beloved elder statesman has retreated to his village home, and rumours abound that his stay may be permanent, sources close to the family insist that he is in good health and spirits.

“Tata is very well. He’s fat and looks like he’s happy and in good health. He sits and watches the cattle around the fields or reads the paper. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with him, he’s looking strong for an old man,” said one village elder close to the family during a visit The Star made to the village this weekend.

Zanomthetho Mtirara, chief of the nearby Mqhekezweni village where Mandela grew up from the age of nine, told The Star that he had enjoyed visits with his grandfather since his return to the village, during which they would sit out on his lawn and talk.

Mtirara is the grandson of a chief, Justice Mtirara, son of regent Jongintaba Dalindyebo who took Mandela in as a child and raised him as his own in Mqhekezweni.

Mandela arrived in the village in time for his 93rd birthday in July on a military aircraft with medical support personnel from the military.

Tall grey gates enclose his house alongside the main N2 road between Mthatha and East London, while a strong presence of guards act as security against unknown outsiders coming inside the homestead.

The chieftainess of Qunu, Nokwanele Balizulu, said that since Madiba’s return, his wife, Graca Machel, had made plans for sustainable development around the village. “She has initiated a project for the growth of vegetables in the village. An open site has already been earmarked. The field just needs poles to mark that it’s for the vegetable garden. I’m excited about this project as this will help our people who live in poverty; it will also help with people’s health,” said Balizulu.

She lives across the road from Mandela’s homestead in a pale green house with a small tuckshop and post office in her yard.

She had told The Star previously that villagers looked at Madiba as “our Jesus” because when he was around, something good would happen.

News of Mandela’s ailing health made headlines in January after he was admitted to Milpark Hospital in Joburg for “routine tests”.

He visited Qunu in May when the remains of his three children, Thembekile, Makgatho and Makasizwe, were exhumed from the family cemetery and reburied in Mvezo – the village where he was born, 40km from Qunu. The children were from his first marriage with Evelyn Mase. Mandela’s grandson, the chief of Mvezo, made the order for the exhumations.

There has been no official confirmation from the family that Madiba’s stay in Qunu will be permanent. - The Star