JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Morris Mandela, a cousin of Nelson Mandela who was raised like a brother, has died.
Sitsheketshe Morris Mandela died early this morning of lung cancer, age 80, at the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha, South Africa's Eastern Cape. He was one of the anti-apartheid icon's last remaining close relatives still living in nearby Qunu village.
Nelson Mandela spent his boyhood in Qunu and after his release from prison built a home there, where he now spends most of his time.
He also built a small house for Morris, an uneducated country cousin who after the death of his mother went to live with Nelson and first wife Evelyn in Soweto township, near Johannesburg, in the early days of the future South African president's political career.
Morris Mandela's mother was a sister of Nelson’s mother Nosekeni, the Nelson Mandela Center of Memory said in a notice on its website.
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In a 2010 interview with GlobalPost, Morris Mandela recalled living with Nelson and Evelyn in Soweto. He said that unlike his cousin, he was not involved in politics.
“Nelson was always working and traveling,” Morris Mandela told GlobalPost from the living room of his home in Qunu.
“He was like a big brother to me,” Morris said. “He worked so hard that I used to tell him, ‘You’ll become president some day.’”
The African National Congress party in a statement noted that his death comes just ahead of Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday celebrations. President Jacob Zuma gave his condolences to the former president while visiting him today.
"We believe that the family during this time of mixed emotions deserves the support and prayers of all South Africans," the ANC statement said.
Morris Mandela "will leave behind him a void that nobody will fill. In his own unique way he has made a lasting contribution to our country," the ANC said. "During this moment of need, the ANC wants to reassure the Mandela family of our support and condolences."
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The ANC's youth league said it was saddened to learn of his death.
"He has been committed to the efforts of the Mandela family and the role that they have played within the ANC and the struggle for liberation in South Africa," the youth league said in a statement.
"[Morris] Mandela has held the fort for the family in Qunu especially during the difficult times of Madiba's ill health amongst other family matters," the statement said, using Nelson Mandela's Xhosa clan name, "Madiba," as a term of respect.
Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday, on July 18, will be marked in South Africa with a week of community service in his honor. "Madiba" is in frail health and hasn't made a public appearance since the 2010 soccer World Cup.
According to the Nelson Mandela Center of Memory, Morris Mandela once said of his famous cousin, and of their village upbringing:
“I was younger than him so used to send me out to collect the cattle and then he used to milk the cattle himself and also take corn and grind it with a stone and we would eat it with amasi. There was marhewu and imifino ... we seldom bought anything edible but we lacked for nothing.”
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