Welcome to Qunu, a town that is synonymous with uTata Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela. Welcome to the Nelson Mandela Museum, a national heritage institution established 13 years ago on the 10th anniversary of uTata’s release from prison.
We were initially established because Tata wanted to share the gifts he received from well-wishers throughout the world with the people. The gifts ranged from a pair of Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves to cultural curiosities presented to Tata by visiting Presidents.
As headquarters, we were given the historic Bunga Building in Mthatha, built in 1931. In a sense it was the perfect location. Originally built to house a quasi parliament for subjugated black Transkeians, the building is richly symbolic of uTata Mandela’sreconciliation project. South Africa’s Nobel Literature Laureate Nadine Gordimer provides a rich potted history of the Bunga in her book, Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1954-2008: “The quaint ‘natives’ parliament was called – both institution and building – the Bunga, derived from a Xhosa word meaning ‘a discussion’. Apart from placating chiefs for their loss of authority to white magistrates, the Bunga incidentally gave educated Transkeians a chance (unique for South African blacks) to learn by frustration the workings of Western government administration. uTata’s comrade and fellow Robben Islander Oom Gov Mbeki wrote in his 1964 book, South Africa: The Peasants Revolt. (The Bunga), that the Bunga, ”developed gradually until the 26 magisterial districts of the Transkei became the basic units of the larger Bunga, which became known as the United Transkeian Territories General Council (U.T.T.G.C.). In the end it was the U.T.T.G.C. that accepted the Nationalist Government`s Bantu Authorities Act, with all the misery accompanying its implementation.”In 1976 the Bunga became Transkei’s National Assembly, “in return for the surrender of any claim for Transkeians ever to sit in the parliament of South Africa, or take part in the central government of South Africa, where more than a third of the Transkei’s people live and work”, Gordimer wrote.
On 11 February 2000 the Nelson Mandela Museum opened its doors in the Bunga. And planning got underway for the erection in Qunu of a satellite Museum campus, to be known as the Nelson Mandela MuseumYouth and Heritage Centre.
Presently, “all roads lead to Qunu”, as we have vacated the Bunga temporarily for overhaul. When it re-opens next year the new Bunga will include additional exhibition space, children’s rooms, dark rooms, an orientation centre, a new auditorium, improvements toclimate control systems and enhanced visitor amenities.
As a national museum bearing the name we do we realise that we are carrying a very heavy legacy cargo.And we realise that with Tata now having returned home for good, our responsibilities are about to become even greater.
This week, we are seeing unprecedented numbers of visitors to the region. Never before have we seen so many people descend on our town. I would like to thank the media for the work they are doing telling the world the story of our beloved Father.
We know that in future, there will be many, many people who will want to come to the area to walk in the footsteps of our icon, to see where he was raised, where he attended school and church, where he played – and where he learned about culture, tradition and leadership.
Most museums around the world measure their worth in the number of visitors to their institutions. We have no doubt that our visitor numbers are going to sky-rocket; that we are going to be called upon to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work necessary to do justice to our founder.
uTata Mandela was a flame that lit the world and symbolised hope. He was a flame that drew people to him, naturally and organically – as candles attract moths.
I appeal to the Friends of the Nelson Mandela Museum – and to all South Africans – to walk with us for Tata, to help us to succeed, to do justice to this gift that God gave us, to ensure that his flame is never extinguished.
I invite you to make yourselves at home, to absorb the environment that fostered the greatest human being the world might ever see.