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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene, good morning. Today is the last day Nelson Mandela lies in state in the capital, Pretoria. His body will then be flown to the Eastern Cape, near the Indian Ocean coast. There, he'll be buried Sunday in a family plot in the childhood village of Qunu.

MONTAGNE: We spoke with the current mayor of that district, Nomakhosazana Meth. She said that like many a great leader, Mandela was shaped by where he came from.

MAYOR NOMAKHOSAZANA METH: The basic foundation of Khayelitsha is home, the family and the surrounding. You know that he grew up as a farm boy looking after cattle. But it doesn't mean when you are coming from the rural area, then there's nothing that you can do.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Gregory Warner is in Qunu now, and sent this report about what remains a humble village.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: I'm walking right now on the rolling hills of Qunu. When I look out, I see cows grazing. I see long-tailed widowbirds overhead. Not far from here, somewhere, is where Nelson Mandela, as a child, used to graze his family sheep. And one gets the impression that Qunu hasn't really changed much since then. It's still a poor South African village, scattered farms.

It's here, of course, that Nelson Mandela chose to build his retirement home. He was born in nearby Mvezo. But for the past week, the peace and the quiet that usually characterizes this village, has been broken.

(SOUNDBITE OF A BULLDOZER)

WARNER: That's a bulldozer, and it is flattening the muddy ground here, in preparation for the military convoys in Mandela's funeral procession. The South African government has been battling time and heavy rains to prepare Qunu for this grand welcome. Thousands are expected to attend the funeral, in a village where the only paved roads are a small one leading to Mandela's home, and another to the Mandela museum.

Outside the town's only shop, a gas station convenience store, I meet Chris Notangala when he tries to sell me a T-shirt. He and his unemployed friends from Qunu have screen-printed 500 of these shirts, in hopes of making some cash. This week, for the first time, he says everybody in Qunu has a job doing something around the funeral.

CHRIS NOTANGALA: Yeah, everybody's working. I mean that the small town, as small as it is, nobody - it's become like a very busy - it's almost like a city but only smaller, because people don't sleep.

WARNER: The lack of jobs here in Qunu and in the nearest big town of Mthatha is an odd testament to Nelson Mandela's style of leadership. Because in so many places in Africa, it's not uncommon at all to see new presidents showering their tribal home base with development money. Mandela refused that gesture. Ironically though, his devotion to an egalitarian distribution of funds means that holding a state funeral in this undeveloped village, in the rain, could be a logistical nightmare.

VOSSI VORSTER: It is chaos there. You know, it's the mud. And it's chaos.

WARNER: A hundred miles down the road, and there's only one main road, Vossi Vorster stares out the window of his shop, the Country Kitchen, watching supplies being trucked in for the funeral. Water, food, steel beams for the 4,000-person pavilion and port-a-potties by the truckload.

VORSTER: I must tell you the amount of portable toilets that would pass by here.

(LAUGHTER)

WARNER: It's just amazing that this is the birthplace of South Africa's greatest citizen - one of the world's greatest citizens - and it's so underdeveloped.

VORSTER: Well, you know, the man is exactly what he stood for. He didn't stood for self-enrichment. He stood for that's what you see - simplicity. I mean that's what made him so great.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SINGING)

WARNER: Near the gravesite, three sisters and their mother formed a quartet. They're standing in the light rain singing a song. The chorus translates to: The sun has set; we've lost a good man.

Gregory Warner, NPR News, Qunu.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SINGING)

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