THE MISSION SCHOOL

The year is 1927.

The tiny village of Qunu lies nestled in a grassy valley in the eastern cape of South Africa.

There are no roads to this village, only footpaths across the pastures amid the grazing livestock.

It is the domain of the Thembu people and Xhosa is the native tongue.

King Jongintabe is the acting regent of this region from his grand palace at Mqhetzweni.

He has ruled since Henry Mandela brought his influence to bear.

Within this remote village afar from any religious ministry lies an academic oasis.

It is a Wesleyan Mission School at which the nineteen year old Mary Mdingane teaches.

The graceful ivory colonial building schools thirty young children of varying ages in a tree shaded courtyard.

The nine year old Nelson Mandela is one of the thirty students along with the King’s son.

When Nelson’s father died of illness on 21st October, King Jongintabe returned favour to a honorable man and became Nelson’s guardian.

It was the custom for each student at the school to be known by a Christian name.

The boy’s father had died on the same date as the great British naval commander, Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson.

So the young schoolteacher christened him Nelson and his birth name of Rolihlahla.was thereafter dropped.

The Xhosa hymn ‘Nkosi Sikele Iafrica (God Bless Africa) is sung each morning by the enthusiastic children.

It is a very powerful hymn indeed composed thirty years before by another Mission School teacher Enoch Sontonga for a school choir.

He had once come here a few years after the end of the Boer War and there is a photo of him with the schoolchildren hanging on the wall.

Then the school classroom was a dilipadated mud hut.  The mud hut is still there opposite the current one but disused.

The nation state of South Africa has existed since 1910.

The days of English and Dutch settlers arriving in the nineteenth century followed by the era of the gold and diamond prospectors and the three years of the Boer War are in the past.

But this is still the tribal land of the Xhosa and Zulu ruled by the white man from a different continent and nothing is going to change any time soon.

Today, Elizabeth is visiting the Mission School.

She has travelled by train for the most part from her humble home in Kimberley.

It is a distance of nearly seven hundred miles and the journey has taken many hours.

It is the first time in her life she has ever travelled by train.  She has travelled alone.

Elizabeth is illierate.  She cannot read or write and has never attended a school class.

Yet this is a remarkable woman of seventy two years who has a story of her own to tell.

Elizabeth has come to visit her niece Miss Mary Mdingane.

The sound of the hymn and the magic of the Xhosa tongue warms her heart greatly.

Elizabeth is guided by her niece on a precious sentimental moment to write her name on a piece of paper with a pen.  It is a momentous moment for her.

There is no formal record of this visit or of the meaningful conversation she apparently had with one of the students who declared that he would one day be the Madiba of South Africa, according to the last words of that boy’s Father.

Years later, long after apartheid and the passing of Elizabeth, South Africa would have its Madiba.

And a school teacher would live just long enough to see it happen and tell the story of her Aunt Elizabeth and a nine year old boy she once taught at a remote mission school.

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