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Qunu - home of the 'Madiba spirit'

Anti-apartheid icon's soft-pink-coloured home is where one of the most important journeys in the world started.
Last modified: 3 Apr 2013 16:19

It is very hard to imagine, when you look at the dusty roads and rural poverty, that one of the most important journeys in the world started in Qunu.

Nelson Mandela grew up here, and this is where he wants to die.

And maybe without family ties and a history to the place, it is not obvious why he would want to spend the rest of his days here.

In one of the poorest regions in South Africa, this simple little community seems a world away from the much-loved statesman that we know.

A little man in suit and tie, carrying a briefcase, walks past us with a "Dumela" ["Molweni"]- "hello" in the local language - and we could suddenly see in him the young Mandela of Qunu. 

This is where he learnt the value of negotiations and the process of inclusivity as he watched his elders meeting under the sturdy trees.

It was such an uplifting thought that someone that young and from such a tiny village can become an international statesman  - just like Mandela did.

The young here know exactly who he is, even though they never lived through apartheid, and the old men we found sitting in front of their coloured mud homes, still talk fondly about him.

'Deeply loved' 

I was moved to hear how deeply  Mandela is loved here and how greatly appreciated his financial involvement is. Without him, their situation would be a lot worse than it already is.

Very little has changed since he was born in 1918: the community a true reflection of the challenges still facing the country, rural poverty, lack of education and widespread unemployment.

Chief Nokwanele, who lives in a tiny shack with no running water and a few cows grazing in the muddy field, is a powerful woman: she is in charge of 16,000 people.

She tells me Mandela's final days are not something she wants to think about.

Mandela's soft-pink-coloured home sits alongside one of the villages. Walls and armed guards surround it. His final resting place is believed to be in the grounds.

You really get the sense here that no one really knows about the impact he has made on the international stage, the barriers he broke and the battles he won.

That they cannot see him as anything more than a man from Qunu – one of their own - who has made them proud.

Follow Al Jazeera's Jane Dutton on Twitter: @janedutton