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Mandela's village: South Africa's road from Qunu

How Nelson Mandela's home village points to South Africa's future.

About 40 percent of South Africans live in rural areas such as this one, and it is here where the poverty is the most severe. Nearly 70 percent of the black rural population lives below the poverty line, according to South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council. Despite towering hopes for the country’s transformation after the end of apartheid, daily life hasn’t improved for many people, and with continuing high unemployment, lack of basic services and a widening gulf between rich and poor, there is rising frustration throughout the country.

South Africa is by far the African continent’s richest economy, but its overall score on the 2011 Human Development Index puts it below countries such as Botswana, Namibia and Gabon. It has been described as a first-world country and a third-world country side by side. Visit cities such as Johannesburg or Cape Town and you will find them modern and cosmopolitan; turn a corner to find townships and slums in the shadows. Travel further into the rural areas you’ll encounter the endemic poverty and lack of development that since colonial times has forced sons and daughters to seek opportunities in the big, dangerous cities.

While Mvezo village and the city of Mthatha are only 70 kilometers apart, there is a world of difference in infrastructure and lifestyle. A university student from a township outside Mthatha, hired to translate in the villages where most people do not speak English, used Facebook on his mobile phone to ask friends for directions to the traditional king’s palace. Meanwhile, the villagers of Mvezo live much the same way as they have for decades, walking two hours each way to fetch water from the Mbashe River.

Mvezo is not just the place where Nelson Mandela was born. It is where South Africa’s future can also be seen.

Mandela Village Mandela Village Mandela Village

Traditional ways


Rural poverty Road from Qunu