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Nelson Mandela: Last Stop Of The Journey

South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela went back to his natal village of Qunu in July, and he’s still there. Many South Africans fear it may have been his last trip.

A Mandela statue in London (paul-simpson.org)
A Mandela statue in London (paul-simpson.org)
Christian Putsch

QUNU - Nonkumbulo Mandela rattles the church door. It's supposed to be left open; ever since the handle broke years ago. "It's a scandal, you can't just let a church fall apart like this," grumbles Nelson Mandela's grand-niece. Grimly, she picks a little stick up off the ground, inserts it in the lock and turns. The door opens. Rays of sun shine through the hole-filled corrugated iron roofing of the Evangelical Methodist Church.

At this little place of worship on a hill in Qunu, there is a service every Sunday morning at 11 a.m. To attend, Nonkumbulo brings her own plastic chair. There are only five benches in the small space, and two are nothing more than wooden planks. Nonkumbulo approaches life without any particular expectations, and she isn't one for a lot of talk or gestures. But this issue angers her. The state of the schools here is a mess, she says, and a village needs a properly maintained church.

On the little dirt path leading to the white church there's a good view out over this South African village. There are green hills as far as the eye can see, and only a few buildings – small stone houses, tiny round huts – with the occasional paved road meandering through. Nelson Mandela grew up here. The boy who later became arguably the greatest statesman of our time herded sheep in these quiet pastures, and played with friends in these fields.

This past July, he came home. Initially, the idea was that he would return to celebrate his 93rd birthday. After the festivities, he was scheduled to go back to his house in the up-market Houghton area of Johannesburg. But that was six weeks ago. Nelson Mandela, it's now being said in South Africa, will likely stay in Qunu for good.

At first glance, Mandela's Qunu compound, with its high walls, surveillance cameras, and guards, looks as if it had been transplanted from the city. But for Mandela this property also harbors memories: before building the big house, he built a replica of the house in which he spent the last years of his nearly 30-year imprisonment. In the 1980s, when it was clear that the South African political landscape was changing, the apartheid government saw to more comfortable conditions for Mandela in prison.

"We're spending Christmas together"

Nonkumbulo Mandela looks over at the compound, and smiles. "We're spending Christmas together," she says, adding that Mandela takes active interest in the village life. "Nelson asks how the children are doing in school. He knows exactly what's going on here." She speaks fondly of her famous relative, but without awe despite his iconic stature in the Rainbow Nation.

Nonkumbulo lives some 400 meters from Mandela‘s home. There are no photographs of him in her house. "We don't need photos, we can just go see him," she says. He may be the great Nelson, but he's one of many Nelsons in the family, which is the largest family in Qunu.

Another family member is Morris Mandela. He's seated in an old armchair in house No. 30143; the number is painted on the wall of the red brick structure. There isn't a more exact address for this house located on a craggy field path, just: Morris Mandela, No. 30143, Qunu. While his stepbrother, Nelson, headed for Johannesburg and left the rural Eastern Cape province behind, Morris Mandela, 14 years his junior, has lived the traditional life of the village.

At least, he stayed for as long as he could. He then had to go work at a mine in Johannesburg, spending many of his 79 years there. Now, back home, he's finding tending his vegetable garden a little harder, and is getting a little hard of hearing. On a shelf near his chair sits a cardboard box with Martin Luther King‘s words "I have a dream" printed on it. "A granddaughter put that there," he says. "I've never been much into politics myself."

Nelson Mandela had this house built for his brother 14 years ago, on the land they both grew up on, and where he came back to spend holidays. It's a solid, simple home with old furniture and a television set. On the wall there's a faded photograph of Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca; Mandela holds one of Morris's children. "I've always dreamt that after he was released from prison Nelson would come back to Qunu," says Morris in his weak voice. "An old man should come home."

But it was 21 years before that happened. Nelson Mandela had a nation to build. And while doing so, he never lost sight of the bigger picture, resisting the temptation to favor his place of origin, something which other African heads of state have done, sometimes to excess, and which the country's current president, Jacob Zuma, quite shamelessly does in his village Kwa Nxamalala. In Qunu, since the end of apartheid, only a few roads have been built, along with a community hall.

Right now, Mandela's is a less active presence on the national scene. His unmistakable voice is that of the nation's conscience, but public statements are rare. Encounters with official visitors are rare, though in June he welcomed U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. His family says Mandela's recovered from health issues that had him in an intensive care unit this past January, and had the nation in a state of near-panic.

Mandela's voice, again, could do the nation some good right now. The governing African National Congress (ANC) is inefficient, conflicted, and lacks strong leadership. Along with five other young politicians, the head of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, is facing a disciplinary committee on charges that he brought the ANC "into disrepute" and "sowed division in the ranks' – something of a euphemism for populist Malema's demagoguery and the recent international embarrassment caused by his call to establish a "command team" to unite opposition in Botswana against President Ian Khama's "puppet regime."

Mandela has devoted his life to the greater good of his nation. Yet on his visits to Qunu, he always had time for local matters. People came to him with their problems. And he listened.

He often said that he felt tugged between Western-influenced city life and rural African life. Even before he was the first dark-skinned lawyer in Johannesburg in the 1950s, he was supposed to be the "Chief" – a traditional leader whose role went beyond that of head of government.

Now the official local chief is Nokwanele Balizulu; in 1996, she became one of the first women to head a South African village. She owns the small shop, located just a couple of hundred meters from the Mandela home, that sells a bit of everything, from tea and rice to ties and umbrellas. Her shop is also the post office, so the village's 200 mailboxes are in front of her hut.

Balizulu doesn't like when anyone speaks negatively about South Africa. "Life has gotten better for all of us," she says. "Even the very poor get help; we distribute blankets and food." She has plans for the village, including an agriculture project. Indeed, in Qunu, she has the last word: even Nelson Mandela needed her okay a few years ago before he could begin construction work on his property. Leading, and living, by example.

Read the original article in German

Photo - paul-simpson.org

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Meike Eijsberg, Anna Akage and Emma Albright

Timing is everything. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is in Africa this week, which follows straight on the heels of the agreement signed to end the blockade in the Black Sea that had been preventing much needed grain exports to the continent.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

The momentary good will brought by Friday’s agreement between Moscow and Kyiv was shattered over the weekend by Russia’s attack of the Ukrainian port city of Odessa (see item below), which is crucial to reopening exports.

To add to the mixed messaging, both in public and behind closed doors, Lavrov is making an extra effort to show Russian commitment to Africa, aiming to reinforce alliances with nations on the continent to counter the Western unity in favor of Ukraine.

Lavrov landed early Monday in the Republic of Congo after having visited Egypt, and meeting with top officials including Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri and Arab League secretary general Ahmed Aboulgheit.

Egypt is the world’s biggest importer of wheat, relying greatly on Ukraine and Russia for supplies. When the war began on February 24, Russia’s Black Sea fleet blocked the export of tons of grain, resulting in global commodity prices to rise, and sparking fears of a widespread hunger crisis. Many of the worst-affected countries are in Africa.

Lavrov’s tour, which also includes stops in Uganda and Ethiopia, is aimed essentially at rallying African countries to Russia’s side. Most African countries have not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine as they seek to maintain balance in their relationships with Moscow and Western capitals.

“To this day, we are not lecturing them, unlike the Americans who go around Africa telling everyone ‘do not talk with the Chinese or the Russians,'" Lavrov told state media in an interview before he started his tour. "All they care about is their selfish interests, even when they trade with you.”

Odessa Attack: Russia “Flouting Spirit” Of Russia-Ukraine Grain Agreement

Aftermath of Russian missile strikes on Odessa port

Cover images/Zuma

After agreeing Friday on a grain export deal, Russian missiles struck the port city of Odessa in the south of Ukraine. The Black Sea port was explicitly mentioned in the grain export deal signed in Turkey on Friday, as it was supposed to reopen to resume grain exports. The attack cast doubt on the future of that agreement.

Russia initially denied involvement in the strikes. But 12 hours later, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed the Russian strikes, saying they had destroyed "military infrastructure" with "high precision" missiles.

According to Serhii Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odessa military administration, two missiles hit the infrastructure of the port, and two were shot down by Ukraine’s air defense. This was Russia's President Vladimir Putin "spitting in the face" of the UN and Turkey, said Bratchuk, German daily Die Welt reported.

The grain agreement is meant to spare billions of people from hunger. A catastrophic food crisis could follow if grain shipments – around 20 million metric tons of which are currently held up in Ukraine – are not able to reach the market.

French daily Le Mondewrote that, although Russia has not technically violated the agreement, “they are clearly flouting its spirit.” Meanwhile, the US is working with Ukraine on a “Plan B” to get grain exports safely out of the country, US Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Samantha Power said Sunday.

Front Cover El Mundo (Spain)

The Ukrainian Hryvnia Currency To Be Withdrawn From Circulation In Kherson

Ukrainian hryvnia banknotes

Karol Serewis/SOPA/Zuma

Rubles will be introduced in the Ukrainian city and region of Kherson, and the Ukrainian hryvnia currency will be banned, reports the Russian edition of TASS, citing the head of the occupied Ukrainian region of Kherson, Kirill Stremousov. Parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions of Ukraine have been under occupation for two months now.

The Ukrainian edition of Economic Pravda writes that the establishment of a "ruble zone" is a standard stage of Russia's occupation of foreign territories, including similar actions during the war in Georgia. In Ukraine, the Russians put the ruble into circulation almost immediately after the so-called "referendum" in Crimea in the occupied areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Ukrainian War Prisoners In Russia To Be Judged By Syria, Iran, and Bolivia

Russia has proposed that a military tribunal for the Ukrainian POWs be created, but not under the aegis of the United Nations, as it represents the hostile West, but rather in cooperation with the countries that have declared their "independent position": Syria, Iran, and Bolivia.

Moscow-based Kommersant daily reports that the Chairman of the Investigative Committee stated that these countries "demonstrate an independent position on the Ukrainian issue, based on the norms of international law." According to official data, more than 1,300 criminal cases were initiated against Ukrainian war prisoners, while Russia has charged 92 members of Ukraine's military high command with crimes against humanity.

Ukrainian Forces: We Will Recapture Kherson By September

Ukrainian military officials have declared a “turning point” in the battle to retake the southern region of Kherson, currently occupied by Russian forces. Sergiy Khlan, an aide to the administrative head of the Kherson region, said in an interview with Ukrainian television on Sunday: “We can say that a turning point has occurred on the battlefield. We are switching from defensive to counter offensive actions.”

He added that “the Kherson region will definitely be liberated by September.”

The Ukrainian forces hope to execute this military plan with the help of Western-supplied long-range artillery. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy declared a successful counteroffensive during his national address on Saturday, saying Ukrainian forces were moving “step by step” into the city.

The Kherson region was occupied by the Russian army on March 3, and was the first major Ukrainian city to be captured. However, an increase in strikes in recent days against key Russian weapons stores around the southern city has allowed the Ukrainian military to gain advantages in the region.

Moscow Turns To Tehran For Drones

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei receiving Russian President Vladimir Putin in the presence of his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi (right) in Tehran

Iranian Supreme Leader's Office/ZUMA

Ukraine has scored significant military victories thanks to it Turkish-made Bayraktar drones. In response, Russia has reportedly started importing armed drones from Iran.

There are two key reasons why Russia is now apparently buying from Iran: its own drones cannot keep up. And Iran's drones are technically less sophisticated than those of Western competitors. But they do the job – and are quicker and cheaper to make. Even Iran's nemesis Israel recognizes the powerful potential of Tehran's drone army.

Read the full Die Welt story in English at worldcrunch.com

Eurovision Set In UK Next Year Instead Of Ukraine

Though the reigning Eurovision Song Contest champion is Ukrainian group Kalush, it will take place in the UK next year.

In normal times, the winning nation hosts the contest the following year. But due to the ongoing war, it will be hosted in 2023 by the UK, which came in second place this year. It is not yet known which city will host, but Glasgow and Manchester have so far expressed an interest.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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