In Nelson Mandela's village of Qunu, prayers and well-wishes
The South African government says the former president is in 'serious but stable condition.'
Qunu, South Africa
Even as residents of Qunu in the rural Eastern Cape offered up prayersÂ for the health of former South African president Nelson Mandela onÂ Sunday, many have come to realize that they may never again see theirÂ villageâ€™s â€śfatherâ€ť walking its dusty dirt roads, greeting and jokingÂ with fellow residents.
As news of Mr. Mandelaâ€™s thirdÂ serious hospitalization in six months reached his home town of Qunu inÂ the rural Eastern Cape, residents of the village held their breath.
InÂ SundayÂ services throughout the village, church-goers ushered upÂ prayers for the elderly global iconâ€™s health after he was admittedÂ to hospital in the early hours ofÂ SaturdayÂ in what the South AfricanÂ Presidency described as â€śa serious condition.â€ťÂ
Despite a subsequent news alert that the Nobel Peace Prize laureateÂ was in â€śserious but stable conditionâ€ť and breathing on his own, theÂ townsfolk remained concerned for the man they have come to regard asÂ their father and overwhelmingly expressed the feeling that they are not ready to face his passing.
â€śI am not readyÂ to say goodbye. We as a community are not ready. Maybe God will make aÂ plan and we will still be able to see him here in the village again," says Qunu resident BoniweÂ Matikinca.
The Qunu Mthini Society womenâ€™s prayer group often prays for theÂ former statesman when they meet at a local hall eachÂ Thursday, and theyÂ would do so again, says resident Nomaova Habe.
â€śWe are worried, because there is so much Madiba [as Mandela is affectionately known among Qunu residents] has done for us asÂ his community. He used to throw Christmas parties and give presents toÂ the children, and he even gave local children new school uniforms atÂ one stage,â€ť says Ms. Habe.
The last time Mandela was back in his home village, where he grew upÂ and where his family homestead is based, was in early December.Â Since then, he has been confined to life behind the high walls of hisÂ home in the upmarket Johannesburg suburb of Houghton â€“ a far cry fromÂ his understated homestead in Qunu where he would spend much of hisÂ time outside its gates conversing with the villagers, according toÂ longtime Qunu residents.Â
Despite Qunu residentsâ€™ wish to see their beloved â€śfatherâ€ť once again,Â the reality is looking increasingly unlikely.
â€śHis family donâ€™t want him to stay here. They would rather he be upÂ in Johannesburg where there are good hospitals. The thing is, he lovedÂ to be here at home,â€ť says Gloria Habe, formerly Gloria Mandela and the granddaughter of Mandelaâ€™s half-brother, Solomon.
Mandela has become increasingly frail in recent years. He was lastÂ seen in public during the opening ceremony of the 2010 Fifa SoccerÂ World Cup, and even then he did not give a public speech.Â Recent television footage, featuring PresidentÂ Jacob Zuma smiling as he sat next to a frail-looking, unsmilingÂ Mandela, sparked a public outcry and claims thatÂ the anti-apartheid icon was being used as political currency despiteÂ his poor health.
A military plan is in place forÂ protocol following Mandelaâ€™s death, Â including specifics about hisÂ body lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria before beingÂ flown to the Eastern Cape and buried at his Qunu home.
The youth in Qunu have grown up proud of the fact that the global iconÂ resides just a stone's throw away. Despite many dwelling in mud huts â€“Â some without access to electricity or running water â€“ the topic ofÂ Mandela sees their faces light up as many recall meeting the former South African dissident-turned-president.
â€śI am so grateful to have been born in this famous village,â€ť says student Lungile Xozwa. "He has done a great job in thisÂ village and the world."