Qunu is a small rural village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, near to the Mbhashe River and coast, best known as the home of former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Mandela was in fact born in the smaller village of Mvezo.
Nelson, or by his Xhosa name, Rolihlahla, Mandela moved with his mother to Qunu from Mvezo after the death of his father. It was in Qunu that Mandela became the first of his family to go to school, and was given the English name ‘Nelson’ by his primary teacher. In February 1990, after 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid campaigning, Mandela’s unconditional release was announced by then President F. W. de Klerk. Mandela returned to Qunu and built his house.
Later, after his term as South African President ended in June 1999, Mandela aimed to lead a quiet family life divided between Johannesburg and Qunu. After a state funeral on 15 December 2015, Mandela was buried at Qunu in the grounds of his home.
In 1990, the Nelson Mandela Museum opened, including the Nelson Mandela Youth and Heritage Centre and the location in Bhunga. Six miles from Qunu, Mqhekezweni was made a Great Place Heritage site in 2013; specifically the honour recognised the old gum trees under which Mandela was taught history and politics by Thembu Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo (also his uncle) when under his care from ages 10 to 18.
Today, you can see painted yellow footprints, representing the steps of former president Mandela, that guide visitors around the heritage site. You can also visit the open-air Nelson Mandela Museum with the permission of the chief, so it is best to contact the museum in advance to avoid disappointment.
Qunu still largely remains the village of Mandela’s childhood: beehive-shaped mud-walled houses and rondavels with both thatched and iron roofs, with chickens and sheep still dotting the fields. Take a moment to survey the landscape, set within the rolling hills of former apartheid ‘independent state’ Transkei, resultantly a great source of unrest, as you look out over Mandela’s coral-coloured home.
Getting to Qunu
Due to Qunu’s remote location, you can only reach it via car. Find it along the N2 highway, a 35 minute drive from the province’s capital city, Mthatha, which has an airport.
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