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Mandela's Home Town Prepares For Thousands Of Visitors


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Nelson Mandela will be buried on Sunday in his childhood village of Qunu. It's in one of the least developed regions of South Africa, on the eastern cape. Thousands are expected to attend the funeral, which has caused some scrambling. The only paved roads in the village are small. One leads to Mandela's home, another to the Mandela Museum.

As NPR's Gregory Warner reports from Qunu, South Africa's government is fighting time and heavy rains to prepare the village for Mandela's return.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: People are out of, and even on top of, their houses to see an unusual sight around here. Military helicopters doing a dry run for tomorrow's task, transporting Nelson Mandela's body from the hospital in Pretoria to his childhood village of Qunu. Here the body will be prepared for burial by chieftains from Mandela's clan in a ceremony that, as per tradition, involves whispering into Mandela's ear.

NOZUKO YOKWANA: They will talk to him as if he is alive.

WARNER: Nozuko Yokwana is chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Museum. She says what they will whisper is as much about the needs of the living as the dead.

YOKWANA: Tell the ancestors that one, A, B, C, D, E, F to open to our own culture.

WARNER: In death as in life, South Africans are calling on Mandela the diplomat. But if you walk around Qunu, there is a lot that people here could ask for. There's no shop in Qunu except a convenience store. The main economy is still subsistence livestock.

NIKKI MICHIWANI: I call the goats by name.

WARNER: Nikki Michiwani(ph) is trying to call her three goats in for supper. Like many Qunu residents this week, the goats are a bit dazed by all the visitors.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They don't want to come. They want to stay and watch the action. It's too busy out there.

WARNER: Qunu hasn't changed that much over the years. There's the glaring lack of palaces or fancy monuments to South Africa's most famous citizen. And in that way, it's unlike some other parts of Africa, where it's common for presidents to shower their traditional home base with development money. Nosisi Tetani(ph) is a tour guide at the Mandela Museum. He says there's some whispered resentment in Qunu about the neglect.

NOSISI TETANI: They think since we - like Mandela was a legend that things should - we should benefit from it, which has not actually happened.

WARNER: Ironically, Mandela's refusal as president to promote his own turf has made his funeral a logistical headache. Everything has been trucked in: food, water, steel beams for the 4,000-person tent, porta potties by the truckload.

VOSSI VORSTER: I'm just going to tell you the amount of portable toilets that would pass here.

WARNER: Down the highway, Vossi Vorster watches the truck pass outside the window of his shop, the Country Kitchen.

VORSTER: Well, man to man, he's exactly what he stood for. He didn't stood for self-enrichment. He stood for that's what you see, simplicity. And that's what made him so great.

WARNER: Qunu residents do hope that now that Mandela's body has come out here to rest, Qunu will become a destination for tourists. Nikki Michiwani, the lady that was failing to corral her three goats, tells me about her daughter, Yonella(ph), graduating next week with a university degree in tourism management. To the great surprise of her mother and herself, she's coming back to live in Qunu.

Gregory Warner, NPR News, Qunu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.
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