, QUNU, Nov 21 – “Madiba”, the man who rose from a cattle herd boy in the poor Eastern Cape to turn the tide of South African history, has returned to his childhood home – this time maybe for good.
The frail, 93-year-old former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela is back in his beloved Qunu, which he left as a youngster in the 1920s to begin a journey that turned him into a global icon.
“Once you see the flags flying, then you know that he’s there,” said Zimsile Gamakulu, 45, who belongs to the same “Madiba” clan -which gave Mandela his tribal name – as his world-famous neighbour.
The official flags wave in the breeze over the grassland hills dotted with simple homesteads and grazing animals, where this time the ageing statesman seems ready to stay.
His fellow villagers believe his return to the tightly guarded compound, which lies across a busy national road from his former home, is both fitting and permanent after a health scare in January sent the nation into a frenzy.
“I think he’s come back for good because this is the (fourth) month now and it’s been a long time he’s been requesting to be brought back here,” said Gamakulu, who leads walks from the Nelson Mandela Museum tracing his early footsteps.
“The tradition is that you don’t abandon your own people, you always come back to your own people because we say you go back to your roots,” he added.
“That’s what we were expecting actually. It would be strange for him to stay in Johannesburg.”
Mandela was born in nearby Mvezo but as a boy moved to Qunu, where his love of open spaces and nature grew while stick-fighting, drinking milk from cow udders, and sliding on his bum down a rock slope with other boys.