Nelson Mandela Museum staff embarked on a special initiative to restore and preserve the traditional dwelling where the young Nelson Mandela lived and developed his political consciousness, in Mqhekezweni, in the former Transkei.
The Mqhekezweni project is one of the highlights of a multidimensional programme which celebrated Mr. Mandela’s 92nd birthday, that also included the launch by the Honourable Lulu Xingwana, Minister of Arts and Culture, of an innovative exhibition in Mthatha, and a workshop for local youth on the preservation of earth buildings and protection of sites of historical significance.
The Nelson Mandela Museum is a national heritage institution, with facilities in Mthatha and Qunu, charged with the preservation and proliferation of Mr. Mandela’s legacy, his values and principles.
Mr. Mandela was born in Mvezo, where this year’s focal Mandela Day event takes place on Sunday. He moved to Qunu after his father was deposed as chief by a white magistrate. After the death of his father, Mr. Mandela’s mother took him to Mqhekezweni, to be raised by the Regent Jongintaba.
It was at Mqhekezweni that Mr. Mandela learnt of the history of his people. In his book, Long Walk to Freedom, he recalls sitting beneath the tall trees and learning of heroism, dispossession of land, and the injustices visited on his people by the oppressive white regime.
“My political interest was first aroused when I listened to elders of our tribe in my village as a youth. They spoke of the good old days before the arrival of the white man. Our people lived peacefully under the democratic rule of their kings and counselors and moved freely all over the country,” he wrote.
The Nelson Mandela Museum wants to place this historic site on the Mandela heritage map. On Thursday, 15 July 2010 the staff of the museum joined elders in Mqhekezweni for 67 minutes of service, getting their hands dirty to start the process of restoring the earth structure that Mr. Mandela shared with the Regent’s son.
The elders of the village delivered an informal lecture on the preservation and restoration of earth buildings that included an oral history component in which the elders shared their experiences. This was followed by the actual restoration of the earth structure using earth material.
Said Khwezi kaMpumlwana, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Museum: “Cultural preservation with a focus on the built environment and of course, education, is a cornerstone of Mr. Mandela’s legacy.
“This project will establish a sense of place that amplifies the best features of the authentic historical buildings directly associated with Nelson Mandela, as well as the sites and their cultural and historical significance.”
The restoration of the dwelling was the first phase of a broader initiative to acknowledge Mqhekezweni’s role in Mr. Mandela’s life, and include the village as an integral part of a heritage trail through the authentic landscapes of Mr. Mandela’s early years.
Minister Xingwana opened the exhibition In Conversation: Nelson Mandela and Chief Albert Luthuli at the Nelson Mandela Museum’s Bhunga Building in Mthatha on Saturday [July 17]. A similar exhibition was launched at Constitution Hill in June.
These installations form part of a major Museum outreach programme that has seen In Conversation, and other Mandela-related exhibitions, displayed in key areas across South Africa to spread Mr. Mandela’s message of peace and hope during the World Cup period.
“The Chief and Mr. Mandela would have had a number of conversations in the 1950s and 1960s, as senior office-bearers of the ANC. This important installation extends those discussions and makes them accessible to us all,” the Minister said.
She added: “Peoples’ histories are reflected through a combination of tangible and intangible evidence including anthropology, genealogy, paintings left behind on rock walls, stories, artifacts, memories, built environments and images.”
A couple of days later, on July 17, Minister Xingwana opened the In Conversation: Nelson Mandela and Chief Albert Luthuli in the Gallery of the Bhunga Building.