At the weekend the world watched in sadness as Nelson Mandela was finally laid to rest in the lush green hills and valleys of Qunu, his childhood home. It was a fitting end to one of the greatest lives of the 20th Century, one that had brought about about his country's peaceful transition to democracy. Yet it all began barefoot in this unlikely rural setting.
This time last year my sister Jacqui and I travelled there to try and discover what it was about this place that made Mandela the man he became and provided him with a framework for leadership from which he could draw forever. We wanted to learn more about the rich moral traditions, vibrant cultural practices and spiritual values of his Thembu clan which were passed on to him by family chieftains and village elders.
After attending the traditional wedding of Mandela's own grandson at his actual birthplace of Mvezo, a nearby but remote village, filming began in earnest at Qunu, where he spent his early years tending cattle with other boys his age, sliding down a smooth rock on a hill, and learning to stick fight, a local form of martial arts. It was in this verdant place that the young Mandela gained a lifetime love of the veld, and learnt to develop bonds of kinship with other boys that undoubtedly sustained him throughout the long years of imprisonment on Robben Island.
The untimely death of Mandela's father when he was seven meant that Mandela's idyllic time in Qunu was short lived. He was sent away to be educated in the royal household of Mqhekezweni by his uncle Chief Jongintaba, (whose great grandson Chief Mtirara showed us around). So that is where we next headed with our camera as it was here that Mandela imbued skills of persuasion, diplomacy, and compromise by listening to the elders in their meetings held regularly under a gum tree in the Great Place, an area containing seven thatched huts or 'rondavels'. It was not a luxurious place though. Indeed the mud hut that Mandela shared as a teenager with his cousin was spartan containing two beds, a table, and a bookshelf...not that different to a prison cell really!
And so it was here that Mandela learnt about the qualities of statesmanship that he was later able to put into practice as the first President of a truly democratic country. We also filmed the church in which he worshipped and the classroom in which he took lessons given by the Christian missionaries who instilled in him values of forgiveness, sacrifice and mercy. Later we were able to attend a colourful tribal dance performance and even a traditional circumcision ceremony which all Xhosa boys undergo as a rite of passage to manhood and which taught Mandela to bear pain without showing emotion, another trait that helped him during the long years of the struggle. All in all it was an incredible lesson in the many aspects of his early years that shaped and guided his inspirational life.
We wanted to make this film available to view online - so please do take a moment to watch online our documentary Mandela: The World That Made Himwww.mandelafilmproject.com