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Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Former South African President Nelson Mandela (18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013) will be remembered not only as a man whose achievements came at great personal cost and suffering to his family, but also as an icon whose sacrifice made the world a better place.

As a tribute to Mandela’s immense contribution, SAnews had caught up with Mandela’s sister, Nonyekana Bulehluti in Mandela’s home village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape. Bulehluti has passed away since the interview.

Aged 78 at the time, Bulehluti, had developed a hearing problem. She could still recall the days when she used to fear her “stubborn” brother, whom she described as someone who never talked much.

She remembered Mandela as someone who stood out from the rest of the family due to his beliefs in education and never-ending curiosity. While they never had the normal sister-brother bond due to the politician’s busy schedule and the many years he spent in jail, she never doubted the love he had for her.

“I never spent time with bhuti (meaning older brother). When I was a teenager, he was already igqobhoka (meaning an educated man). He was very quiet but loved to laugh at anything and that’s how I remember him – laughing and laughing,” Bulehluti said.

She and Mandela shared a father but were not of the same mother. Mandela’s father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, a chief by both blood and custom, had four wives, the third being Mandela’s mother Nosekeni Fanny and Bulehluti’s mother, Nodayimani, was the fourth wife.

While Bulehluti was not born yet when Mandela left Qunu at the age of nine to live at the nearby Mqekezweni following his father’s passing, their later interactions revealed astonishing characteristics of a man who would later lead South Africa to its first democratic elections.

“He was born to lead. You could see he was different from all of us. He questioned things and liked to be in the company of the elders. He never spent much of his time with us … and before we knew it, he was gone (to study),” said Bulehluti.

However, she explained that the family never felt abandoned or deserted by Mandela as they were aware of his passion for politics and the desire to see his people free.

“For us, it became a matter of saying – yes, he is our brother but he does not belong to us but to the nation. It’s something that we learnt to live with over time and I can never regret having him as a brother. Even though it was not easy at first, he has achieved what he wanted,” said Bulehluti, who at the time of the interview had left the original Mandela home to live with her daughter about 15km away.

Mandela’s cousin, Sketshetshe, 78, who spoke to SAnews about the life and times of the big but close-knit Madiba family, still lives in the original family yard, where Mandela and his host of siblings used to play.

Mandela’s father had 13 children, four boys and nine girls, but as in any African home, the house was always filled with babies and other children of relatives. While the three huts Mandela’s mother presided over in Qunu have now been demolished for a modern house, traces of the structures are still visible.

Mandela mentioned in his autobiography ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ that of the three huts, one was used for cooking, one for sleeping and the other for storage. “In the hut in which we slept, there was no furniture in the Western sense … we slept on mats and slept on the ground,” he wrote.

Sketshetshe, who bears a striking resemblance to Mandela’s mother Nosekeni, says while a lot has changed since those days, the family still plants and harvests mielies as well as small poultry farming.

“We are still living the way he (Mandela) left us. We refused to change now that he found fame and whenever he comes, he finds us here still doing things the old way,” he said, holding up a portrait of him and Mandela for the entire duration of the interview.

On the walls of the living room are pictures of Mandela and other family members, together with other famous pictures taken during the struggle for liberation – perhaps an indication of how proud the family is of the man.

Sketshetshe explains: “We want the children to know who this hero of the family was …we want them to continue with the legacy and the foundation he laid for the entire Mandela family and the Madiba clan.”

He appeared to remember more about the years he spent with Madiba in Johannesburg than back home. He claimed that during the treason trial of 1963, he, Mandela’s mother and the former statesman’s wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, were a subject of constant police brutality.

During that trial, Mandela and others who fought for liberation were sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of planning to bring about communism.

“The house in Orlando (Soweto) used to be searched all the time. One day, while we were traveling in the car with the children, we were stopped and ordered out of the vehicle. It was searched all over and that became the norm everywhere we went.”

Mandela’s well-know grandson and Member of Parliament, Chief Mandla Mandela, confirmed Sketshetshe knew his grandfather very well. “Yes he is a very close family member of Dalibhunga (Mandela’s clan name) so he must know these things”. – SAnews