Since the hospitalisation of former state president Nelson Mandela last month, his eldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela (60) and eldest grandson, chief Mandla Mandela (38) have engaged in a public spat about ownership of the icon's legacy.
This week, Mandla, officially head of the Mandela clan, denied that there was tension between him and his aunt. A few days later, Makaziwe and 16 other family members filed an interdict with the Eastern Cape High Court, ordering Mandla to return the remains of three family members he controversially exhumed two years ago and re-buried in Mvezo.
The matter was first raised at a family meeting held in Qunu last week. Mandla allegedly walked out and refused to answer why he had taken such a huge decision without consulting the family.
When he moved the graves, Mandla said that Mvezo was the birthplace and traditional home of the Mandelas and therefore held historic and heritage significance.
Mandla, who is based in the family homestead in the Transkei, became the chief of Mvezo after the death of his father Makgatho Mandela in 2005. He was chosen as a successor at the age of 32. He graduated with a degree in politics from Rhodes University and is a Member of Parliament for the ANC.
In recent years he has become increasingly vocal politically as a member of the ANC and a traditional leader. In an interview this week with Cii, an Islamic radio station, he spoke of how people needed to embrace their traditions and culture, especially when it came to the treatment of the elderly. “Ubuntu needs to be our guide to everything we do towards senior citizens. There is a lot of disrespect and abuse suffered by the vulnerable,” he said, adding that the topic was close to his heart because of his grandfather’s advanced age and health.
What he is not vocal about, however, is the mayhem of his three marriages, which has played itself on the public stage. In recent years, Mandla has been in and out of court for maintenance, divorce and alleged assault, among other legal challenges. His first wife Thando Mabunu-Mandela is in the process of divorcing him in a bitter public feud, with damaging statements made by both sides.
His second wife Anais Grimaud (22) was impregnated by Mandla’s 21-year old brother and his third marriage, to Mbali Makhathini, took place despite a court ban that was put in place after Mabunu insisted that he cannot marry another while they were still married. Mabunu has asked for the marriage to be annulled.
A sheriff last year seized assets worth R100 000 from Mandla after he failed to pay maintenance to Mabunu, pending their divorce that has been lagging since 2009. Last year a female construction worker tried to open a case of assault against him after he allegedly assaulted her at a petrol station.
Mandela's daughter Makaziwe is no stranger to bad publicity either. She and her sister Zenani made news last month by announcing their intent to sue their father’s trust. They went to court in an attempt to remove their father’s choices of directors and trustees of the Mandela Trust, namely attorney George Bizos SC, Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale and lawyer Bally Chuene.
In his replying affidavit, Chuene reportedly said he, Bizos and Sexwale had, in 2011, refused to release the trust's money to the daughters without a legal justification. Critics slammed the daughters’ move as desperate and an act of greed. The case was clouded by the recent ill-health of the elder statesman.
Recently, Makaziwe has set her sights further, extending her intervention in the family’s public image and administration. She has added her voice to the ongoing Mandela family graves debacle, moving to make sure that the exhumed remains are returned to and reburied in Qunu. She intends to carry out her father’s wish of being buried in Qunu alongside his family, despite Mandla’s protest that Mvezo would be the right place.
Mandla has decided not to oppose Makaziwe on the exhumation of the bodies, preferring, as he put it, to give in to "authority". According to African culture, the elders know best.
Makaziwe is also taking a firmer hand with family matters, going as far as addressing not only Mandla, but the media as well. In a recent interview with the SABC she spoke on behalf of the family, accusing the international media of being "racist vultures".
Her recent unapologetic stance has led to speculation that she is vying to be the new head of the clan.
Makaziwe, affectionately known as Maki, is the daughter of Mandela and his first wife Evelyn. She was named after her older sister who was born in 1947 but who died before her first birthday. She is the only remaining child from Mandela’s first marriage.
Like her father, she attended the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape. She later earned a PhD in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts. She has been in positions of power at the University of the Witwatersrand, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, and now heads the Industrial Development Group, with interests in mining and petroleum.
In an interview with the Nelson Mandela Centre for Memory Makaziwe was quoted saying: “I think there are a lot of strong women, but we put them into boxes. We tend to view these things from a male perspective. If you look at our Parliament, there is a set percentage of female representatives, but how often do you see women made visible?
In that interview, she also spoke about leadership. “We have started thinking that there is only one leader, so we don’t support leadership. It’s individualistic and it’s moving away from ubuntu. In the African culture one was chosen as the chief, but he in turn consulted other elders in the community, so he didn’t rule as a dictator.”
This in turn has led to strong views about her controversial nephew, who is allegedly considered a bully in the Eastern Cape by members of the family and community. Last year, he was taken to court by a community member who claimed he dug up private graves (separate to the family graves) in order to build a hotel and a stadium on the land. The case is still in court.
Mandla, however, emphasised the developmental aspect of project, as the stadium is needed for activities such as the Mvezo Komkhulu Youth Tournament, an annual soccer and netball tournament that has been running for six years.
“The tournament is aimed at exposing the talent of rural boys and girls and fighting alcohol and substance abuse. We want the youth to live in clean, healthy environments. Through sport we can have a healthy nation and disciplined future leaders,” he said at the time to local media. However, thanks to flouting correct procedure, the project landed him in court and has further deepened his unpopularity.
Ultimately, one of the two has to start behaving like a leader, or run the risk of the Mandela name being increasingly mired in scandal.