‘Illegitimate’ Mandla Mandela could be stripped of chieftaincy

The legitimacy of Mandla Mandela's chieftaincy is now in the hands of the Mandela elders after his half-brother Ndaba said Mandla was not the rightful chief of Mvezo.

An elder from the Mandela family has told the Mail & Guardian that Mandla is an illegitimate chief who should be overthrown. He said Mandla has disrespected the family by refusing to have the bodies of Mandela's three children, which he exhumed, taken back to their original place of burial.

Ndaba Mandela, Mandla's half-brother from Makgatho Mandela's marriage to Zondi, told the Daily Dispatch on Monday that, although the Mandela family originally supported Mandla when he volunteered to be chief in 2007 because no one else was keen, the family now realises his chieftaincy was a mistake.

The elder, who wanted to remain anonymous, confirmed that Mandla's mother Rayne "Nolusapho", whom he said was a "township girl Makgatho refused to marry", gave birth to Mandla outside wedlock. Xhosa culture dictates that an illegitimate child has no claim over chieftaincy.

He added that his mother has never been able to instil proper discipline in her son over the years because she is of no royal standing, and her township upbringing did not prepare her for the needs of a royal family.

'Hold up the sun'
When contacted by the M&G, Mandla Mandela laughed off the claims and challenged his brother to bring forward the chief whom he regarded to be the legitimate one. "As usual, my family is using the wrong forum to address family matters. Ndaba must come to the family and tell us these things he knows, that we don't," he said.

Mandla warned that his brother must hold up the sun, "Alibambe lingatshoni": a veiled threat to his brother.

Dr Nokuzola Mndende, director of the Icamagu Institute, which researches African culture and religion, said a child born out of wedlock cannot be chief, especially if the man meant to be chief has a son.

"Traditionally, if the parents are not married the child uses the surname and clan name of the mother. Even if the child is familiar with the father and his family, the child is still of the mother's family," she said.

The elder said some members of the family, including Makaziwe, are not at this stage concerned about the chieftaincy or leadership of the family. "They just want the graves to be exhumed and for order to be restored so that their father's spirit may be in peace," he said.

'To win Nelson's heart'
Rayne (now known as Nolusapho) and Makgatho, Nelson Mandela's son and Mandla's father, met in Johannesburg in the 1970s and shared a family home in Soweto for a brief period. Mandla was conceived in 1974 during this period. Soon after they separated and Makgatho married the late Zondi Mandela, with whom he has two sons, Ndaba (29) and Mbuso (24).

"Mandla grew up in Cofimvaba with some members of the Mandela family. He was loved so dearly by his grandmother and Nelson himself. His grandmother used to say, 'If you want to win Nelson's heart, go through Mandla," the elder said.

The source said that even though Mandla was an illegitimate child, this love was the reason why Madiba easily agreed to have him as a chief. "He seemed like he was growing into a decent young man until he showed traits of being very stubborn and his life became surrounded by a lot of drama. Something went terribly wrong," said the source.

He added that elders in the family were already too old at this time to give Mandla proper guidance on how to handle power and avoid abusing it. "His mother married a white businessman and moved to Hong Kong. She then re-appeared a few years ago when she was suddenly made a wife to a deceased Makgatho and renamed Nolusapho. Who marries a married man?"

He says the ceremony of her having utsiki (a bride being introduced to the groom's ancestors) was done after Makgatho had died. That is not customary law. "Nolusapho, as old as she is and close to her son, still has no idea how to advise him to do the right thing and act like a proper chief," added the source.

It is reported that AbaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo has also publicly stated that he would never acknowledge Mandla as a chief because he was not the rightful chief of Mvezo.

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Khuthala Nandipha
Khuthala Nandipha is a journalist for the Mail & Guardian. This involves writing about various social issues that develop and change on an hourly basis. Her interests are, in a nutshell, how South Africa and the world’s revolution affect the person on the street: “the forgotten voting citizens”, as she calls them. She loves writing, and taking photos as a way to complement her stories. She grew up on the south-east coast of East London in the Eastern Cape. She studied journalism at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. She is not new to Jo’burg, having spent the first eight years of her journalism career working for various newspapers and magazines there.

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