QUNU – Ordinarily the rural South African village of Qunu is a slow-paced blend of livestock, locals on foot and the occasional car winding along the smattering of roads and dirt paths that link humble homesteads.
But with Nelson Mandela again in hospital, his beloved village has become a magnet for the world’s media, hoping to offer some insight into his life. Since he was hospitalised on Saturday, lensmen, television crews and scribes have made their way to the sleepy settlement where Mandela spent his boyhood and recent years, until ill health whisked him away.
“I saw many many many journalists, all over,” said Jongikaya Ndzeki, 39, who is of the same Madiba clan as Mandela, saying it used to be quiet here.
“When he’s sick, they are coming here.”
Reporters wander the grassy landscape, interviewing locals, snapping pictures, and filing copy in hired cars under the shade of the few trees dotting the landscape.
With a ring fence around Mandela in hospital, his neighbours offer a uniquely personal insight into the man they consider both a hero and also a fellow villager.
Here interviews are done village-style.
Soundbytes are taken while locals strip maize from the cob and keep an eye on a cast-iron pot on an outdoor fire.
A quick interview is done while a local pauses while passing by with a cattle- drawn cart.
“Its good to know that there are people who want to know more about Mr Mandela,” said Sibabalwe Mhelomane, 17, who goes to school in the nearest town Mthatha, some 30 kilometres away.
“It’s not a nuisance. I feel good about people who are concerned about what people think and what people say about the illness of Mr Mandela.”
Some residents had not even heard about Mandela’s latest hospitalisation, like a 67- year-old woman who did not want to give her name and has no television or radio at home. “They are not so many,” she said about
But the area’s most famous resident, who went from herding sheep to global icon, is the only subject on most people’s lips as he battles a new lung infection.
While Qunu lies along one of the country’s main arterial roads, it is in one of South Africa’s least developed regions in the Eastern Cape.
There are no readily available electricity points to sit and write and edit.
But as Mandela spent a fifth day in hospital, the media kept arriving at the village’s rolling hills where the icon built his home once freed form 27 years in prison.
“It’s the most famous village in South Africa: Qunu,” said Ndzeki, who had already been interviewed by a television news channel before speaking to AFP.
“Even overseas, they know Qunu.