Mthatha: An ordinary town with unique roots

AMANDLA. ANC supporters sing and dance in Mthatha on the eve of the arrival of former President Nelson Mandela's coffin on its way to Qunu where he will be buried. Thousands of high-profile mourners, including numerous political figures are expected to descend on the remote location in Eastern Cape province. Picture: AFP.

Mthatha has the same problems any sizeable town in the world has.

Mthatha has its potholes, crime, grime and that other plague of modern South African society: taxis – but it also has something unique. Mthatha has Qunu, the birthplace of Nelson Rolihlanhla Madela, the father of South Africa’s democracy.

And, if you’re coming to visit this mountainous country and you’re on foot, best pack a well-worn pair of walking shoes because even the mountains have hills.

There is something else Mthatha has: the ubiquitous bakkie. These are packed with produce, sheep, chickens, cattle, animal feed and the like.

It is different, because while Mthatha is a large urban area, the switch from town to farm is immediate – and within walking distance. The smell of exhaust fumes mingles with the ungentle fragrance of fermenting manure under the hot African sun from animals for sale on street corners.

All this, and the shopping centres and building supply warehouses and traffic jams is home to the stern Lunga Sokupha and the happy-go-lucky and very loud Nicholas Isaac.

“Where in Joburg are you from,” Sokupha keeps asking. It turns out he studied grade 12 in Midrand. He cannot wait for his matric results.

“There is no racism here. This is the land of ubuntu,” yells a seemingly alcohol-fueled Isaac. He drowns out the traffic and sends birds chattering with his bellows.

Sokupha is glad the funeral is tomorrow. “Madiba was sick for a long time. He can rest now.”

The Citizen spoke to several people who were unaware tomorrow’s funeral was being restricted. “Shame, you can understand why. There are going to be so many people there,” said Nonkhululeko, declining to give her surname.

Tomorrow Qunu will welcome home its most famous son, Nelson Mandela, forever.

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