The Bhunga Building in Mthatha is a landmark building with a history as complex as that of Nelson Mandela himself. Opened in the 1930s, it has seen successive political organisations come and go, from the colonials to the Transkei Parliament that sat there during apartheid, ironically once presided over by Nelson Mandela’s cousin, Chief Kaiser Matanzima. It is only fitting therefore that it now not only houses the physical artefacts of Nelson Mandela’s life, but also serves as a centre of learning, a place where Nelson Mandela’s philosophy is spoken of and passed on to all who visit.
After Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and became South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994, he was given gifts from people, governments, institutions and nations. Nelson Mandela’s footprints left imprints all over the world and the world wanted to acknowledge his contribution.
He accepted the gifts on condition that he would donate them to the people and that they would be displayed near his home village of Qunu. Instead of building a new space to house the collection, it was decided to create the multi-faceted Nelson Mandela Museum at Mvezo, Qunu and in Mthatha.
Ten years to the day after his release on 11 February 1990, the Nelson Mandela Museum opened its doors. Nelson Mandela insisted it was not just to be a static collection and tribute to him, but a living memorial to his values and vision. It was to inspire and enrich all who visit it, serve as a catalyst for development and should share the heritage and resources linked to him.
‘During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people, I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.’ 7
Embedded in the footprints of Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom are the values of ubuntu, integrity, inspiration and learning. Here, the legacy of his past is juxtaposed against the legacy of his future, where his learning and his teachings will inspire new generations to stay in touch with the past.
‘I have always regarded myself, in the first place, as an African patriot. After all, I was born in Umtata, forty-six years ago. My guardian was my cousin, who was the acting paramount chief of Tembuland, and I am related both to the present paramount chief of Tembuland, Sabata Dalindyebo, and to Kaizer Matanzima, the Chief Minister of the Transkei.
‘Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part from Marxist reading and, in part, from my admiration of the structure and organisation of early African societies in this country. The land, then the main means of production, belonged to the tribe. There were no rich or poor and there was no exploitation.’ 8
Nelson Mandela continues to battle injustice and ignorance. His fight might have moved to different fronts – he now concentrates on the struggle against HIV/Aids and the rights of the children of South Africa – but his commitment to the moral way remains steadfast.
The Nelson Mandela Museum, spread over these historic sites, tells his story with impact of its reality, set as it is in the authentic landscape of his beginnings.
- 7 Nelson Mandela, June 1964 before being convicted of sabotage and treason at the Rivonia Trial.
- 8 Nelson Mandela’s statement from the dock at the opening of his defence in the 1964 trial.