It was funeral day in Qunu yesterday, and this scruffy village strung along a line of low hills where Nelson Mandela lived as a child was almost deserted. People had travelled to nearby Mvezo to bury a wealthy man who had died a week earlier. Others walked up over the ridge to a neighbouring village, to pay their last respects to a popular chief who had passed away. Here in this place where tradition runs deep and custom is sacrosanct, you are buried on a Saturday.
For Nelson Mandela, they are willing to make an exception. His funeral, next Sunday, will be a global event attracting thousands of people to Qunu, and perhaps billions more will watch on television. However, on the hillside that will become the final resting place for one of history's most revered icons, there was no movement yesterday besides the cool wind swaying the red flowers of the Cape aloes dotted around. For now, Qunu is quiet and the mood is sombre. Unlike in Johannesburg, where people continued to celebrate Mandela's life yesterday with dancing and singing, here they were mourning his death. For them, Mandela was the regal but humble man who walked among them, hiking the hills and valleys after his retirement.
Memories of Qunu sustained Mandela during his long years in prison. He once wrote that it was from his days playing here as a child that he developed his "love of the veld, of open spaces, the simple beauties of nature, the clean line of the horizon", all things denied to him on Robben Island.
It was to here that he returned after his release and where he eventually built a large home, in which he spent increasing amounts of time until his health deteriorated. And it is to here that his body will be brought, to be laid to rest on the hillside with the Cape aloes, overlooking forever those open spaces and that clean line of the horizon.