Mandela put on a canary-yellow sport coat. Behind us, women watched, many of
them with infants strapped to their backs. The chief had insisted that parents
drop their children off at the edge of the clearing and wait for them out in
the field. Some villagers had refused to allow their kids to come because they
disagreed with his decision to make it a feast for children only. A light rain started, and the parents looked
hungry, wet, and resentful. As the children dug into the meal, the nkosi helped the youngest ones settle their bowls in their
laps. When adults called on the kids to bring the food uphill into the field to
share, he waved them back into their seats. Mandela had upended tradition,
trumping the power of the parents to apportion their family's rations.
the time most of the kids had eaten their mutton, the misting rain had turned
into a downpour. The storm shrouded the dying sun, casting the surrounding
landscape into sudden darkness. On the outskirts of the village, you could see
bonfires burning, and teenagers clustered around them. Mandela told me of his disappointment that
more teens hadn't shown up for the celebration. As we left the Great Place, it
became clear where the adolescents had been all this time, partying along the
narrow, treacherous road.
the drive past them, groups of older girls and young women danced toward the
car, slipping and sliding in the mud. Wet clothing clung to their bodies,
translucent in the headlights. "Take us, don't you want us?" one girl shouted
at me, holding her arms out and pressing her breasts up against the side
window. Another young woman shimmied toward the passenger side of the car,
beckoning at my companion their desperate invitation, and that drunken call -- take us, don't you want us? -- haunted me all the way to
Mthatha, the town where we were staying.
in the morning, on the day after Christmas, we made the muddy drive back out to
Mvezo. The roads were clear of people. All the bonfires from the night before
had been doused. Scattered remnants of charred wood were the only signs of the
wild, roving celebrations that had taken place in the rain. It was overcast,
and threatening gray clouds gave the impression of a sky brought low. When we arrived at the Great Place, Chief
Mandela was meeting with a dozen local residents in one of the large rondavels
down below the ridge.
were the villagers who had been sent as delegates to the ANC national
conference at Polokwane. They were mostly elderly men wearing blankets. Each
man took turns relating what had happened at the conference, all in rapid-fire
isiXhosa. There was lots of laughter and even some acting out of the arguments
during the discussions about policy and candidates, of comments about the
victory celebration afterward. "They said,
'Madiba, we did exactly as you instructed us to do,'" Mandela said, turning to
me. It struck me, then, that this use of the family's clan name, commonly
reserved for Nelson Mandela, had been transferred in Mvezo to the new nkosi. "They said, 'We didn't compromise our votes,'" he
continued. The chief insisted that he had not influenced their votes, but only
had warned them against the undue influence of others. The delegates should be
true to the feelings of the members of local branches, the chief had argued.
The net effect, of course, was to weigh in on Zuma's side since he had won 62
percent of the vote, against Thabo Mbeki, in a local ANC branch meeting.