Mandela’s hometown burial a call to ancestors to set his spirit free

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

Patricia Zamin, a traditional healer, shares her memories of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg Friday.

In keeping with tradition, former South African President Nelson Mandela will be buried Sunday in his native town of Qunu, where sangomas, or healers, will rattle bones to summon his ancestors to grant him eternal freedom, a cow will be slaughtered – and his coffin will be lowered into the earth.

(SOURCE) JOHANNESBURG — He hammered a brass hinge onto the lacquered pressboard coffin.

“Mandela doesn’t buy his coffin here,” says the man who calls himself Ndlovu, which means Elephant, through an interpreter.

He bangs another brass nail in front of G&G Sitholes, Furniture and Coffins at 129 Mai Mai St. on the rim of a spooky labyrinth of alleyways honeycombed with tiny storefronts called the Jeppstown Mai Mai Bazaar.

Vumo Zizi, a sangoma or traditional healer, in front of her shop at the Mai Mai Traditional Healer Market in Jeppe, Johannesburg, Friday. Mandela's 'ancestors are already pleased from the rains this week,' she says.

Vumo Zizi, a sangoma or traditional healer, in front of her shop at the Mai Mai Traditional Healer Market in Jeppe, Johannesburg, Friday. Mandela’s ‘ancestors are already pleased from the rains this week,’ she says.     Ilan Ossendryver for New York Daily News

It’s a place where everyone whispers, “Madiba,” Nelson Mandela’s tribal name from his hometown of Qunu.

“He says Madiba is a great man so he buys his expensive coffin from America,” says the interpreter, Vincent Knmah. “Ndlovu just makes coffins for poor and working people. But he says the chemists and sangomas around the corner will explain how Madiba will be prepared for the spirits of his ancestors for burial in Qunu.”

He points me into the laneways of the bazaar, where shoeless children race in front of the tiny shops selling traditional African clothes, skins, calabash, jewelry, trinkets, herbs and potions.

Selena Makhetha, a traditional healer in her shop at the Mai Mai Traditional Herb Market in Jeppe, Johannesburg, Friday. 'To speak to his ancestors before he’s buried, Madiba needs sangomas to rattle the bones,' she says. The sacks of bones will be shaken and then spilled onto the floor.

Selena Makhetha, a traditional healer in her shop at the Mai Mai Traditional Herb Market in Jeppe, Johannesburg, Friday. ‘To speak to his ancestors before he’s buried, Madiba needs sangomas to rattle the bones,’ she says. The sacks of bones will be shaken and then spilled onto the floor.                                                     Ilan Ossendryver for New York Daily News

At 74 Berea St., an herbal chemist named Selena Makhetha, who saws and grinds exotic bark and gnarled roots into a fine dust, offers herbal bromides to be brewed like tea. Bemisi for headache, shlambez for a pregnant woman’s womb, hlambadaka to mend a broken heart after a death in the family.

“To speak to his ancestors before he’s buried, Madiba needs sangomas to rattle the bones,” she says. The sacks of bones will be shaken and then spilled onto the floor.

A coffin maker puts finishing touches on a coffin he has just made in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday.

A coffin maker puts finishing touches on a coffin he has just made in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday.   Ilan Ossendryver for New York Daily News

We are directed to Vumo Zizi, a sangoma, or traditional healer, who teaches others to be sangomas at the storefront she shares with her husband, Themba Zizi.

“He will be buried in a traditional way,” Themba says of Mandela. “They will select the best cow on the Mandela farm to be slaughtered. The blood will be drained for drinking. And the beef will be boiled only, no herbs. The tradition is that only the men will eat the meat and drink the blood.”

What do the women do?

Thousands come to pay their last respects to Nelson Mandela, as he lies in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa.

Thousands come to pay their last respects to Nelson Mandela, as he lies in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa.    Ilan Ossendryver for New York Daily News

“Cook,” says Vumo, laughing.

“Then the sangoma will rattle the bones to summon and speak to Madiba’s ancestors,” she says. “His ancestors are already pleased from the rains this week. They will tell them when Madiba is ready for burial so his spirit will be freed.”

And then on Sunday morning, when the tribal traditions are all met and the ancestors are happy, Nelson (Madiba) Mandela will be lowered into the deep rich earth of the Eastern Cape of southern Africa from where he was born and Vumo Zizi says his spirit will be set free.

Just as in life Madiba set free all of his people.