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Mandela's Village: Mandela was no saint

Nelson Mandela was one of the first members of South Africa's now-emerging black middle class.

Smith suggests that Mandela might have been influenced by the lifestyle of Jongintaba, his regent and longtime guardian back in the Eastern Cape, described as a womanizer who drove “a big car he couldn’t afford.”

Mandela's heroic status has also been recently attacked by Mandela's second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

“Mandela let us down,” she told journalist Nadira Naipaul and husband author V.S. Naipaul, though she later angrily denied that the interview had taken place.

“He agreed to a bad deal for the blacks. Economically, we are still on the outside. The economy is very much ‘white’. It has a few token blacks, but so many who gave their life in the struggle have died unrewarded,” Madikizela-Mandela said.

Madikizela-Mandela has a point. The gap between rich and poor in South Africa has increased since the end of apartheid, and poverty continues to be largely along racial lines. More than 95 percent of people living in “informal settlements” — shantytowns — are black, according to Statistics South Africa.

South Africa does, however, have an emerging black middle class, dubbed “black diamonds.” It is a small but rapidly growing group, numbering about 3 million people out of a population of 30.1 million adults, according to the University of Cape Town-based Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing.

A recent survey found that the country's middle class is becoming increasingly deracialized. For the first time, there are more black South Africans entering the middle class than whites, according to the University of South Africa's Bureau of Market Research. However, the same survey reaffirmed existing inequalities, finding that 1.6 percent of the adult population earns 25 percent of all personal income.

There is still a strong connection between the city-dwelling black middle class and rural areas of South Africa. Many black people who live and work in cities still keep a home in their ancestral village, to retain a connection with their roots.

And many black diamonds retain strong ties to traditional cultural beliefs, a report by South Africa’s TNS Research Surveys found. For example, 86 percent said they believed in lobola — the custom where the groom's family pays the bride's family — and 75 percent believed in slaughtering animals such as goats to thank their ancestors.

Mandela, though still a city dweller, has maintained close ties with his home village. His cousin Morris moved back from Soweto to the rural Eastern Cape upon retirement, and lives today in a house that Nelson built for him in Qunu. The simple brick home, built after Nelson was released from prison, is a stone’s throw from the Mandela family graveyard, in the village where Morris and his famous first cousin spent their boyhoods.

Mandel, meanwhile, now spends most of his in the rural village where he grew up, Qunu. But, he still maintains his home in Houghton, a wealthy suburb of Johannesburg.

“I have always believed that a man should have a home within sight of the house where he was born,” he wrote in his autobiography.

During those flamboyant days in Johannesburg he became “a man of the city,” Mandela said. But he added that he has always “remained a country boy at heart.”

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Traditional ways


Rural poverty Road from Qunu