MVEZO, A CHANCE FINDING
We had experienced the Sardine Run and sadly had to leave to slowly make our way south to Cape Town. We had barely left Coffee Bay when I saw a road sign to our left saying ‘Mvezo’. Something rang a bell but Tony was driving and didn’t see it so I didn’t say anything. About another half an hour down route N2 and I saw another sign for Mvezo. Tony saw it this time and recalled that this was the village of Madiba’s birthplace.
Madiba’s (Nelson Mandela) Birthplace
I knew we were in the general area of the Xhosa people but I had no idea we were that close to where he came from. Well, given that it was only a day after International Mandela Day, I knew we could not miss this opportunity. So even though we were hours behind our schedule we pulled up, reversed and turned down an amazing paved, yes, paved, winding road for the next 10 km.
The road wound through very sparse, dry, almost desert-like land with only few trees or shrubs, but then transformed in to rolling hillsides with a deep gorge bearing a large river. The road was very bumpy, stony and dusty. We began to drive through the village of Mvezo and pass roaming sheep and donkeys on the road, as well as swerve a few times to avoid deep potholes, something we were getting very good at.
Mvezo was small with sparse scattered houses along the roadside, mainly rondewals but of a slightly better quality than what we had seen in Coffee Bay. Whilst we still saw the odd mud brick, thatched one, many had corrugated roofs, and they all had new concrete or steel walled outside toilets. Some also had new rainwater tanks attached to the roofs and the odd one even had a satellite dish! But otherwise, they still had koraals (kraala or animal pens) in their garden for sheep and goats.
Quite a few had “Vote for ANC” posters in their windows and nearly every electricity pole had a poster attached with President Jacob Zuma’s face. It looked like the ANC was a stronghold here and government money was certainly more visible here than in Coffee Bay.
Meanwhile people and children were still walking along the roads with animals following. Only an occasional car drove past. There were no bicycles in sight. We drove for about 5km through the village and could not find the area where we thought we may have found the newly erected memorial in Mandela’s honour. Eventually we gave up and turned around to head back to the N2. Then suddenly as the dusty stoney road became paved again, we noticed what looked like a private gated reserve with an unsigned entrance. We drove into this and read a sign placed about 30 metres down the road.
Yes, this was the third addition to the Nelson Mandela Museum. Shangri-la! Our quest had been rewarded. In the distance down this road we could see some very nice dwellings, totally out of keeping with those in the village. The area was neatly landscaped and manicured. As we approached we saw a sign that confirmed we had arrived at the Nelson Mandela museum. There was a complex of many buildings, some looked like accommodation with some still under construction. There was a brand new statue of Mandela just publicly revealed yesterday, so of course we had to take the cursory selfies in front of it.
Just further down the hillside was a parked highly decorated ANC van, and then we found the small open air museum. Well it is more of a pilgrimage site that a museum, overlooking the countryside. Small children were throwing a ball around museum .and I noticed some scratches already on a metal stand adorned with one of his photos and some of the side panels missing. I could only hope the locals would respect the monument as it would be a shame if it sustained further damage or graffiti on it.
The sun was setting, the landscape was turning a golden orange and the air was still. It was a magical moment to think we were here, where the one of the greatest men in the world’s history had actually come from. And what humble beginnings. How on earth had this very poor rural area given birth to a young man who 60-70 years ago grew up to become a lawyer and later, one of the most influential people in the world not just Africa. The leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, incarcerated for 27years for treason only to be released and become the country’s President. This man fought hard and strong all his life for human rights and we felt honoured to be on his home soil. And in our amazement when we went back onto the N2, there were no signs even mentioning what Mvezo was, no mention of Mandela’s name or the museum. Perhaps this was all in keeping with his humble nature.
One goal, One life, One nation.
[Photos by Tony and Irene Isaacson]