`Mandela once stole couple of uncle`s oxen to escape marriage`

After Mandela was expelled from Fort Hare University at the age of 22, Paramount Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, who was also his uncle, insisted that both men take wives.

PTI| Updated: Dec 08, 2013, 15:50 PM IST

Johannesburg: Cash-strapped Nelson Mandela, under pressure to get married, once stole a couple of oxen and sold them so that he could run away from home and start a new life in Johannesburg, the widow of one of the anti- apartheid icon`s cousins has said.

After Mandela was expelled from Fort Hare University at the age of 22, Paramount Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, who was also his uncle, insisted that both men take wives.
"They did not want to get married so they decided to run away, to a place far from the rule of the chief," recalls 91- year-old Nozolile Mtirara about her husband Justice Mtirara as well as Mandela.

Mandela came to live with Mtirara in 1927, after leaving his childhood home of Qunu, in Eastern Cape province, to stay with his uncle, Paramount Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo.
"He (Mandela) and my late husband stole a couple of Chief Dalindyebo`s oxen and sold them so they could have money to go to Johannesburg and begin a new life."

"Mandela said his uncle was furious when he heard what they had done and sent word to Johannesburg for them to return home. Justice did, but Mandela stayed a bit longer and got involved in politics," she was quoted as saying by the BBC.

As the widow of one of Mandela`s cousins - and close childhood friend - she remembers a man who enjoyed eating sheep tripe and reminiscing about his days as a young herd boy.
The two met when Nozolile married Justice in 1945 when she was 18 years old, and she eventually became one of Mandela`s close confidantes.

The mud hut which Mandela shared with Mtirara, is still standing. It is decorated in a faded paint and a bright blue door, as it was when Mandela lived there.

Nozolile Mtirara has looked after the family homestead, the Mqhekezweni Great Place, for decades.

This won her great favour with him, and their relationship changed from that of in-laws to close friends.

A few years after he was freed from prison, he built her a seven-bedroom Tuscan-style house, the report said.

Once or twice a year, Mandela would travel to visit Nozolile Mtirara and share a meal followed by hours of conversation about his childhood.
These visits were a great pleasure for both of them, she said.

"He had a childlike spirit, even in his old age. His face would light up when he shared stories about his childhood," she recalled.

She says she was always given pride of place at Mandela`s table.
Mandela, 95, died at his home here on December 5 after a protracted illness.