Rural living and traditional problems at Mvezo, the homeland of Nelson Mandela's Birthplace.

A wake-up call to the dilemma of rural poverty set against the backdrop of scarce and unsanitary water,

and an eloquent if disturbing reminder of an Eastern Cape community, South Africa, but with a global message.

     Mvezo is a rugged area with its own special harsh beauty. Vegetation is sparse and it is hot and dry in the summer. The winters are cold and conditions are not optimal for agriculture. The Eastern Cape is one of the poorest of South Africa’s 9 provinces and the area within which Mvezo falls is especially depressed as it does not have the motor industry of Port Elizabeth and it does not benefit from the tourism of East London.

     This is not to say that it does not have potential to lure industry or tourism. Within one hundred kilometres lies the Wild Coast one of the most beautiful stretches of unspoiled coastlines including the pristine beaches Coffee Bay and stunningly beautiful Hole-in-the-Wall. It means however, that there is a huge development task that awaits those who recognise the potential.

     Mvezo, the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, the first president of a democratic South Africa is also known as the Great Place.

It is situated in the Eastern Cape – approximately 85 kilometres south-west of Mthatha (formerly Umtata). The Village is nestled in a horseshoe-shaped bend in the Mbashe River.

     The population of Mvezo Village is 110 000. When one includes the greater Mvezo Region – a radius of about 25km - the numbers swell to quarter of a million.

     Composition of the population demographic is not encouraging either. The population is skewed in that the bulk of the population is younger 40 years of age. This holds serious implications for employment and service provision in the future.

     There are no recent statistics, but it is estimated that there is up to 50% unemployment in the rural Eastern Cape. It is not unusual that men of employable age leave the area or province to seek work in the motor industry in Port Elizabeth or in the mining industry in Gauteng or the Free State. This migration has serious negative effects on the social fabric of the area, leading to an erosion of values and traditions.

     Literacy is low: although accurate figures are not available it is estimated at 65%. That there is no high school in Mvezo comes as no surprise in the light of this fact.

     There is also no hospital in Mvezo. Inhabitants have to make do with a mobile clinic, or the clinic at Qunu. Proper hospital care is only available after the long trip to Mthatha. 85km may not sound like such a great distance, but when one considers that only 57km of this distance is via a paved road the problem becomes clear. Added to that is the fact that there is no reliable public transport.

HIV/AIDS: As in many parts of Africa AIDS is a problem in Mvezo. It is estimated that up to 25% of people in the region are HIV positive. This is due to or compounded by the factors mentioned above. Low levels of education means that people are ignorant about what causes AIDS infections as well as how to take preventative measures. This includes ignorance regarding dietary and hygiene measures.

Factors further complicating the issue are the lack of basic amenities.

Inhabitants of Mvezo do not have access to a reliable supply of clean running water. This has obvious impact on health not to mention the time that is wasted carrying and purifying drinking water.

The health risks facing a community with no waterborne sewage are obvious.

Furthermore there is no electricity which means that every day precious time is wasted collecting firewood for cooking and heating. Along with the fact that there is no paved road from Qunu to Mvezo it is also a disincentive for anyone who wants to invest in industry in the area.

Generating one’s own power is vastly more expensive than power supplied through Eskom’s national grid.

The Region is governed by Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandlesizwe Dalibhunga Mandela who is head of the Mvezo Traditional Council. He was installed as Chieftain in April 2007.

This is a re-establishment of the royal family line. The Mandela Clan’s rule of the area stretches back to the mid 1800s.

But Nkosi Zwelivelile’s great-grandfather Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela (father of Nelson Mandela) was stripped of his title in the early 1900s when he resisted the summons of a white magistrate. Members of the clan and in particular the wives of Mphakanyiswa Mandela were forcibly removed from where they lived in Mvezo and on the banks of the Mbashe River.

It was at this time that the young Nelson Mandela had to leave Mvezo - the place of his birth - and relocate to Qunu.

It is now this home that is host to Mandela’s final resting Place.

Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandlesizwe Dalibhunga Mandela is not an absentee landlord.

He lives among his people and is involved in the day to day running of the region. He graduated from Rhodes University with a degree in political science and his chieftaincy vests in him the power to pass judgement in civil disputes as well as criminal cases.

Furthermore he heads up a development arm that collaborates with government to determine development issues and to initiate development projects.

This quote from Mandela has

inspired many people in their fight for a better world:

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.”

Let's keep our heads pointed to the sun and our feet moving forward

-- for Mandela and for the world he fought to make possible.



David Dodds