Over the past four days, and ahead of President Obama’s visit to the country this weekend, the prayers have grown louder as the beloved anti-apartheid icon and former president’s health has turned critically serious. South Africans across the nation are reflecting on Mandela’s legacy as if steeling themselves for his eventual death.
How Mandela will be remembered, and what sort of legacy he passes on, has triggered a bitter dispute among South Africans amid reports that his children and other relatives have sought to market his name and image, and that politicians are using their association with him to boost their popularity.
“Uphold all of us with your steadfast love so that we may be filled with gratitude for all the good that he has done for us and for our nation,” Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, wrote in a prayer posted online this week after he visited Mandela at his hospital in Pretoria. Makgoba wrote that he wished Mandela be granted “a quiet night and a peaceful, perfect, end.”
That legacy has already been cemented, in the purest form possible, through the residents of Qunu, a sprawling village in the green and brown hills of the Eastern Cape province. It’s hard to find anyone here who hasn’t been personally touched by Mandela and his life. It is the village where he grew up and where he retired when he left public life. In his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom,” he describes Qunu as the place where he spent the happiest moments of his childhood.
How people here remember Mandela, 94, is not measured in terms of money or political credibility, but in a lasting impact he has had on their lives through his generosity and kindness.
Kekana Manqwambi owns the house next to Mandela’s peach-colored homestead in Qunu. A few years ago, his eldest son got in a dispute at work and was thrown in jail. Mandela, he said, gave him 500 rand, roughly $50, to pay for his bail.
“I will always be grateful for what Madiba did,” said Manqwambi, a talkative 92-year-old who recently moved to a new house across the road. His son, he said, is now Mandela’s next-door neighbor.
“I can’t imagine the world without Madiba,” he said.
Though nearly the same age, the two men met only after the apartheid regime freed Mandela in 1990 after 27 years of incarceration, Manqwambi said. They were from the same clan and became close friends in 1999 after Mandela finished his term as South Africa’s first black president. For years, Mandela visited Qunu during holidays, staying at his homestead, before moving there permanently last year.