It was day 19 of the Nelson Mandela death watch, and my char, Mrs Gladys Dhladhla, had brought her grandson to work with her. Mlungisi is a stout little chap, 14 years old and bent on becoming a professional rugby player. His granny was counting on me to broaden his mind so Mlungisi and I drove to Mandela’s home in the suburb of Houghton and spent an hour or so chatting to the international TV crews camped on the sidewalk outside. One technician told us he’d been there since 8 June, the day the old man was admitted to hospital with a lung infection that was expected to be fatal. Nearly three weeks later, he was still refusing to die.
And then, even as we stood there, several cell phones started ringing simultaneously and the story of the impending demise was blown out of the water by a fuss involving Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, who exhumed three of his grandfather’s children and had them reburied in Mvezo, the remote rural hamlet where Nelson was born in 1918, and where Mandla now rules as tribal chief.