Tag: Eastern Cape

The Mandela story ends where it began

Nelson Mandela. (Pic: AFP)
(Pic: AFP)

The way the Mandela story ended was the greatest comfort I could have ever been given. I could say that his funeral was the greatest gift that could have been given to the people that gave birth to him. It was the greatest tribute to Africa. Something about it was cheeky, it spoke more about the soul of the man who would become famous as the darling of the world. The Mandela who had been sown to everyone else but the Eastern Cape would choose his final resting place to be in the rolling hills of the Eastern Cape. Struggle heroes such as Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Chris Hani who all hailed from the rural Transkei were buried in Johannesburg.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, that great giant whose Xhosa name is often misunderstood by the international community, was buried in the region where his umbilical cord lies. This man was not like the men in his village who may have only lived in one place their whole lifetime. This man was once sentenced to life in prison far away from his people, where he was never supposed to see the hills on which he once played or walked. As a free man he became president and he was revered the world over. He has seen the most beautiful places and the worst places in the world. He was celebrated and continues to be the most celebrated human being that has ever walked the earth within their lifetime yet, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela chose Qunu as the place of his final rest. Rolihlahla means “to pull a branch”, which means to cause trouble. African languages revel in idioms and proverbs and his indigenous name is no different. His father named him on purpose. Mandela caused much trouble to the apartheid system until it was brought to an end. As a freed leader Mandela caused trouble with his own people, challenging them to be at peace in a time that was supposed to be marked by bloodshed. In Patricia de Lille’s words: “Many of us believed that we would shoot our way to Pretoria. but he [Mandela] convinced us to talk.”

Mandela famously instructed a heated stadium to throw away their weapons into the sea. He was causing trouble, the kind of trouble that is character-building and takes people to new heights and leads them to realise something greater. Mandela continued to be a trouble maker as president, he infuriated black South Africans by refusing to change the Springbok rugby emblem and by wearing a Springbok jersey at the 1995 World Cup final. That was the kind of trouble that forced South Africans to cross over old barriers and dare to see one another as people who are not playing on opposite sides but as one nation. Mandela was the kind of trouble maker that forced us to face our pain by showing us what is on the other side of the pain if we leave our bitterness behind.

Nelson Mandela, dressed in a number 6 Springbok jersey, celebrates after South Africa beat the All Blacks by 15-12 to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup on June 24 1995. (Pic: madiba.mg.co.za)
Nelson Mandela, dressed in a number 6 Springbok jersey, celebrates after South Africa beat the All Blacks 15-12 to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup on June 24 1995. (Pic: madiba.mg.co.za)

How does this trouble maker end his story? How does he conclude his life? How does he continue to trouble the leaders who succeeded him? While Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla was still at the centre of national scrutiny, Mandela would be buried where the poorest people of the nation live. He would force the nation to look at the forgotten province of the Eastern Cape. He would make it most difficult for our leaders to ignore the state of the rural community in South Africa. He would add further pressure by being so important that all the leading men and women of the world would want the honour of attending his funeral in rural Transkei. He could have chosen to be buried in Johannesburg or a more accessible, developed area – one South Africa could later show off as a famous site, like we did during the 2010 World Cup. That event hardly registered in the Eastern Cape, nothing happens besides poverty in these forgotten hills. Here, in Qunu, Mthatha, former rural Transkei among the forgotten poor, where development has not yet been imagined, Mandela would host one of the largest events of the 21st century. The world would bury its hero. Qunu would be known. Mthatha would be uttered in the powerful offices of every continent and every major nation. East London would be discovered, along with the famous peaceful hills of the rural Eastern Cape and its beautiful wild coast. He would cause trouble by disrupting ordinary rural life with the arrival of the most prestigious world leaders and celebrities, cameras flashing non-stop. Qunu, despite not being built as a world stage, hosted the world’s greatest leader. Which village in the world can share that same story?

I absolutely love how the Mandela story ends… it ends where it began. It ends where economic justice is still waiting and where recognition and acknowledgement of the rural people is still pending. It ends where the battleground of colonialism and apartheid began. It ends there because it has not yet begun until it has been accomplished and completed where it began. It ends where life is romanticised by onlookers and those who live in it are forced to pack up and live in shacks in the cities because of poverty and lack of resources. It ends here, where Mandela chose to be buried among his people.

The coffin of Nelson Mandela is carried on a gun carrier for a traditional burial during his funeral in Qunu on December 15 2013. (Pic: AFP)
The coffin of Nelson Mandela is carried on a gun carrier for a traditional burial during his funeral in Qunu on December 15 2013. (Pic: AFP)

Mandela’s burial place forced the world to look at the seemingly unsophisticated simplicity he came from, the place that most Africans would identify with. He was laid to rest on the hills that taught him the greatest gift his life gave to the world, the power of forgiveness through his ability to preserve the dignity of humanity, even when a human being behaved like an enemy. Here kings, queens and presidents came to behold the humility he came from and returned to. How could such greatness hail from such a place, they must have asked?

The people of the Eastern Cape had to be onlookers as their greatest son was buried. However, they would remain there while the world would leave. They would forever know those rolling hills and have reason to keep looking. This provides all sorts of possibilities. It means that life in the now world-famous Eastern Cape will not remain the same. It indeed cannot.

 Siki Dlanga is a writer and poet. She has published an anthology called Word of Worth. She is passionate about nation building, sits on the South African Christian Leaders Indaba steering committee and is a member of Freedom Mantle. Connect with her on Twitter: @SikiWrites

Being an Eastern Cape refugee in Cape Town

(Pic: Gallo)
(Pic: Gallo)

A lot is made in South Africa of the “refugee situation”; that is, desperate immigrants from other African countries who have chosen to settle in the continent’s southernmost country.

Protestations that Nigerians, Congolese, Malawians and Somalis, in particular, “have come to steal our jobs” are as ubiquitous as the daily furore at the taxi rank over who saw which customer first.

That is complete nonsense of course, and everyone knows it, but it is one of those topics, like dissecting the merits of the Pep Store funeral plan, that locals like to debate endlessly.

Yet in truth South Africans are among the greatest number of refugees going around, so to speak.

Ask any South African on the street where they are originally from, and they will invariably tell you a location hundreds of kilometres away from where they live now.

And in Mzansi, there is no greater natural refugee than one who hails from the Eastern Cape. I should know – I am one.

According to the 2011 Census, in the Eastern Cape, 436 466 people left the province since the last census 10 years prior. Ninety-four percent of the Eastern Cape population was born in the province, compared to 56% of Gauteng’s population.

And almost two million people born in the Eastern Cape lived in other provinces, with the majority living in the Western Cape in and around the Cape Town metro (0.9 million) and Gauteng (0.5 million).  

Desperately poor under apartheid and equally so now, the Eastern Cape has never quite managed to get off the ground, despite vast swathes of natural beauty, excellent schools and universities and being home to South Africa’s motor industry for decades.

Every year scores of us leave to work in Johannesburg or Cape Town, either in the industrial or mining sector or to pursue a career in the corporate or entertainment field. “That’s where the money is” we are told, and off we go; an annual exodus not seen since the days of the Biblical plagues.

I myself am a late bloomer in terms of the Eastern Cape émigré, having only settled in Cape Town several months ago. Yet, even now, I can honestly say my reason for leaving was neither financially-driven nor born out of any especial desire to become a master of the universe.

Yes, I was in need of a job upon my return from Southeast Asia, but the main catalyst for my decision was that Cape Town – with all its hipsters, beardy-weirdies, flash public-relations types and movie-extra hopefuls – represented the ideal opportunity for change.

I was reared in Port Elizabeth and will always be proud to call it my home town. But in the last few years I had seen it become a microcosm of Johannesburg where a rat race, and indeed, sometimes egotistical mentality had begun to infiltrate every aspect of your working and social life.

The result was that the city once deemed the friendliest in the land had become disconnected from what it once was –  sleepy yes, but a good place to relax and enjoy your days in the sun.

I worked briefly in Johannesburg some years back, but after a few weeks the hustle and bustle of a heaving concrete beast became too much. There was no tangible downtime to take your mind off the previous week’s work, and everyone seemed in too much of a hurry to get onto the next thing – and prove the next thing to others.

I understand perfectly that these attitudes sometimes are required in an economic hub, but they are definitely not for everybody. And neither should they be, especially in a city like Port Elizabeth which was historically always a delightful place to live despite being blue-collar.

So Cape Town it was, a 700-odd kilometre trek up the N2 for this particular refugee.

It has been two months now, so what do I have to report?

Without a shadow of a doubt, change has been effected.

Cape Town, above all, is comfortable with itself, and that is reflected in the attitudes of its residents. Aside from the odd bad apple one encounters, the people are among the friendliest in the country, and that has a marked impact on one’s own attitudes.

The Cape Town native is acutely aware that their city has a reputation for being “cliquey”, but also knows that this arises from a small cross-section of the community who most people avoid at all costs.

Second point: Cape Town residents do not care one jot for the political wrangling that consumes South Africans in other parts of the country.

Contrary to what some might believe, Mother City residents are not in the least bit interested in spending their dinner times dissecting the latest political diatribe from one or other party leader. While they are immensely proud that their city houses the country’s Parliament, one suspects they are even more pleased that the magnificent building bolsters the central business district’s prime real estate value.     

It is almost as though politicians are only rolled out when there is an election, otherwise civil society pretty much runs itself.

To be free of South Africa’s great political preoccupation is a huge relief, and it is little wonder that many Capetonians appear perplexed when they see someone ranting and raving about something or other on television.

And finally, how could anyone continue to harbour feelings of anxiety or anger or concern when in every direction there is either a mountain, ocean or vineyard to gaze upon? It is almost impossible to worry about anything for too long.

As South Africans will have guessed by now, the description of myself as a “refugee” in this piece relates to an incident in early 2012 when Western Cape Premier Helen Zille referred to Eastern Cape pupils flocking to Cape Town for improved education as “education refugees”.

It sparked a massive outcry, prompting the ruling party and others to label the Western Cape government an “erstwhile apartheid” regime.

Personally, looking back on that incident now and as an Eastern Cape refugee myself, I don’t see what all the fuss was about.   

John Harvey is a media relations consultant in Cape Town. He previously worked as a journalist in Port Elizabeth, Plettenberg Bay and Cambodia, contributing to a number of South African and international publications. He is hoping to obtain his work visa for Cape Town shortly.