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At 93 years, Mandela goes back to his home village

Nelson Mandela

By Eliot Sefton

LAST UPDATED 5:12 PM, JULY 25, 2011

Just a week after Nelson Mandela celebrated his 93rd birthday, his family have announced that he has left his Johannesburg home and plans to live out the rest of his life in his country retreat in Qunu, near the Eastern Cape village where he grew up.

The former South African president and world statesman flew from Jo’burg to Qunu to celebrate his birthday quietly with his family, forcing president Jacob Zuma to announce that the decision did not imply that his frail predecessor’s health was failing.

Now Mandela’s family have confirmed that he has asked to stay in Qunu indefinitely. His granddaughter Ndileka said: “He enjoys seeing cattle in the village and the kraal that is not far from his house. This gives him peace and comfort.”

She added: “As long as he is in a healthy state while there, we are happy.”

Ndileka said Mandela did not speak much on his birthday – now known to the rest of the world as Mandela Day – but enjoyed being surrounded by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Pictures were released to the press showing Mandela with his family and a birthday cake, looking thin and solemn, but alert.

Meanwhile, South Africa and the world celebrated Mandela Day, which the UN recognises as a global call to volunteer work. People are asked to give up 67 minutes to voluntary work that day – one minute for each of Mandela’s politically active years.

David Cameron also chose Mandela Day for the start of his trade visit to Africa, before cutting it short because of the phone hacking scandal. It is still not clear whether Cameron had been hoping for a meeting with Mandela. The Guardian reported last week that “plans were said to be afoot” for him to pay a visit, but it never materialised.

The two men have met before. In 2006 Cameron made a firm break with the Conservatives’ embarrassing conduct over apartheid in the 1980s when he told Mandela that Margaret Thatcher had been wrong to resist sanctions against South Africa.

But Cameron has a more personal reason to want to be seen in public with the great man: his own embarrassing trip to South Africa as a guest of anti-sanctions lobbyists made in 1989 when the future president was still locked in a prison cell.

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