In Mandela’s village, death is a taboo topic
‘We are just waiting and hoping. Sometimes hope grows and sometimes it fades. But we can’t talk about issues related to his death, it’s not done,’ said villager Lazola Nqeketo.
‘Sometimes I wish I was in Pretoria where he is. Here no one tells us anything,’ he added.
Like others in Mandela’s ancestral village, he has been relying on television and radio reports for updates on the condition of the ailing post-apartheid president. In many African cultures, discussing a person’s death is taboo until they die. So while the world watches the failing health of the architect of South Africa’s remarkable transition from white minority rule to multiracial elections, his neighbours are avoiding the subject. ‘There’s no right time to discuss the death of a person who’s still alive,’ Penuel Mjongile said as he watched over cattle on a bitterly cold winter’s morning. ‘That is taboo. It’s not done,’ he said, lowering his voice.
Mandela, who turns 95 next month, was hospitalised on 8 June with a recurrent lung disease. The scene outside the Pretoria hospital where he has spent three weeks in intensive care resembles a mini-shrine, with candles and messages of goodwill piling up. But his rural homestead remains eerily calm apart from the presence of foreign media.
Few people have been seen entering the guarded compound containing the villa-style house that Mandela built in the early 1990s after his release from prison. Sheep and cows amble past the homestead nestled among mud huts dotting the valley, where Mandela’s parents are buried and where he has expressed a wish to be laid to rest.