Connect to share and comment

Mandela's village: Rural poverty endures

Rural South Africa remains mired in poverty, even Mandela's birthplace.

A mobile clinic provides basic health care, but in case of emergency, patients must be transported to the nearby town, a slow and uncomfortable journey. There is no transportation to get into the next big town, and this lack of transport is a big concern for villagers, said Luhadi.

But, she added, the most difficult part of life in Mvezo is the daily hikes to get water from the river because of the village’s broken tap.

“What we need most is water,” Luhadi said.

The village of Mvezo used to be located next to the river, but the apartheid government forced all villagers to resettle on top of the mountain as part of the “betterment” scheme, under which land sizes were reduced and people were forcibly moved from their homesteads.

Under apartheid, parts of the Eastern Cape were forced into two “homelands,” the Transkei and the Ciskei, puppet states controlled by the government. To try to escape the poverty, most men from the area would head off to the gold mines of Johannesburg, where they worked in desperate conditions to earn money for their families. Today the former “homelands” are still among the poorest areas of the country.

The king of the Thembu people, one of the main tribes of the Eastern Cape, recently appointed Mandla Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela, to take over the traditional chieftainship of Mvezo, explaining that it was a rare opportunity to spur development and gain international attention for the village through the celebrity power of the Mandela name.

“It is one of the lost corners of the country,” said King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo in an interview at his Great Place in a nearby village. “I felt it would provide chances for Mvezo.”

Rayne Mandela, widow of Nelson Mandela’s second-born son, works closely with her son Mandla and serves as acting chief in Mvezo when he is away. In an interview, she admitted that it is not healthy for the villagers to draw water from a river where donkeys, cows and other animals also drink. The villagers are supposed to boil river water and add a drop of bleach to purify it, but those who are born and raised in the area don’t bother with such precautions, she said.

Few tourists make the trek to Nelson Mandela’s birthplace, and those who do have nowhere to stay. Mandla Mandela is trying to change this through the construction of a hotel, self-catering rooms and a backpackers’ lodge, part of a larger development being built in the village.

Rayne Mandela says that she has met visitors from South Africa and beyond who wished to spend time in the village where Nelson Mandela was born, but were deterred by the lack of a hotel. She is hoping that the construction of tourist infrastructure will lead to greater development and the improvement of living standards for villagers.

“In the long run, we know we won’t get people coming to Mvezo until they can stay the night,” she said. “Tourism would help to develop quite a lot of things in Mvezo.”

Mandela Village Mandela Village Mandela Village

Traditional ways


Rural poverty Road from Qunu