QUNU, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela will be buried on Sunday morning in his hometown of Qunu. Mandela always preached to his friends and to people in general that in life, it is always possible to rise above any situation -- but only in life. "He deserves to rest. He has done everything for us," said a Qunu resident, echoing the sentiments of others in the village.
My journey to Qunu, which is in the southeast of the country, began on Saturday at 4:30 a.m. -- it would take 14 hours to arrive to the village by car. The trip was a wonderful opportunity to see the South Africa that Mandela shaped. On the way from Johannesburg, we passed through three provinces. In the Orange Free State, I stopped to eat in a small township. In a local workers' restaurant, three white women sat at a table, and at the adjacent table were two black couples. The scene in the dining area oozed normalcy -- perhaps Mandela's greatest achievement. "This is my country and I have no desire to go anywhere else," Susan, a 60-year-old Afrikaner, told me.
At the table where the black diners sat, I heard compliments extended to their white neighbors: "They are our brothers and sisters in the same country." In the restaurant, you could still sense remnants of British heritage, with fish and chips on the menu. "Only our fish is tastier," said one of the diners. On the way to my car, I saw a young white couple that one could tell was not swimming in money, and a black man filling up gas in his Porsche. This is the South Africa of 2013. But this South Africa also has its downsides, which can be seen in local media reports that the leader of the Xhosa people, to which Mandela belonged, opposes Zulu President Jacob Zuma's participation in Sunday's funeral service. Meanwhile, Mandela's memorial service and the sign language translator who turned out to be a fraud also have not been forgotten. Over the weekend, it was reported that the "translator," Thamsanqa Jantjie, had been charged with murder and rape in the past, but he was never taken to court as he was considered unfit for trial.
As the journey continued, we neared the Eastern Cape, Mandela's home province. The homes of white farmers were replaced with the homes of Africans belonging to the Xhosa people. Mandela's casket already arrived at Mthatha airport in the Eastern Cape on Saturday. Police and military forces guarded the streets to ensure the funeral procession would run smoothly. "I came to pay my final respects to a great man," I say to a police officer who lets me into Qunu. Mandela was born in the village of Mvezo, but his family is buried in Qunu. There, I saw African women preparing food for the visitors who will arrive for the funeral. On the menu: Spicy chicken and maize meal. Next to the women were local merchants coming to make easy money, selling shirts with pictures of the great leader, a member of their tribe.
A large mourners' tent was erected at the city hall, and in nearby villages I saw similar mourning tents for Mandela's fellow tribe members. The view, I must admit, is spectacular. A mountainous landscape side by side with valleys. There is no better place in the world to bury Mandela. No wonder Qunu's residents celebrated throughout the night. Not just because Mandela is joining his ancestors, but because he has finally returned to his favorite place on earth.