/ 4 July 2013

Traditionalists scathing about involving the court

There's high drama at the Mandela household. Where does Mandla get his power
There's high drama at the Mandela household. Where does Mandla get his power

Phathekile Holomisa, leader of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa, strongly criticised the family's decision to resolve the relocation of the graves through the courts instead of at an ibhunga, or traditional meeting.

"It would have been preferable that they exhaust all cultural ways by calling on the elders of the Madiba clan to look into these matters rather than go to Western courts, whose norms are foreign and not of our own."

This week, 16 members of the Mandela family asked the Eastern Cape High Court sitting in Mthatha to order the exhumation of the bodies of Nelson Mandela's sons Makgatho and Thembekile and daughter Maka­ziwe, who died as an infant in 1948, from Mvezo.

Mandla, according to the family members' submission in court, moved the graves in 2011 to his home in Mvezo, where he holds a chieftainship, without following proper consultation as demanded by the customs and traditions of the clan. The family argue the three bodies should have remained in Qunu.

In his responding affidavit this week, Mandla denied that moving the remains to Mvezo was related to the burial rites of his grandfather. Madiba had always maintained that he wanted to be buried next to his children, and family members claimed that Mandla had wanted Mandela's funeral to be held in Mvezo. The bodies were exhumed on July 3.

Simply nonexistent
However, Mandla said his grandfather's burial place would be determined by his will.

"If there are no express directions in that document, the duty falls on me as the eldest surviving male descendent."

However, he said he would exercise that right "with discretion with advice from other relevant persons", including Mandela's wife Graça Machel, the royal houses and the government.

Mandla also argued that the "urgency" as set out in the family's affidavit was "simply nonexistent".

Holomisa said: "The tragedy about this whole thing is that they didn't even get a divine healer to say prayers to the owners of the remains.

"To do this, you need to slaughter and offer traditional beer to the ancestral spirits. You have to inform them. You have to appease them," said Holomisa.

"You have to talk to them [and explain] why you're moving them and apologise for not having done the right thing in the first place and ask for guidance; then you do the digging and call the hearse to take them to their final resting place."

Absurd and illogical
Mncedisi Ndletyana, a political analyst and senior researcher at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, said the family's decision to approach the courts was "absurd and illogical".

"I don't know how a civil court can rule on a customary matter."

Ndletyana said, in terms of the culture and tradition of the aba-Thembu clan, Mandla had not been wrong to bury the three bodies in Mvezo because it was the birthplace of Nelson Mandela's father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa.

"In terms of customary laws, Mandla has done absolutely nothing wrong. His late father Makgatho's roots are in Mvezo where [former] president Mandela and father were originally born," said Ndletyana.

"If you follow culture – and Mandla as the chief is the custodian of that culture – then that's where they [Makgatho, Thembekile and Makaziwe] should be buried. [Former president] Mandela should also be buried there.

"Madiba's residence in Qunu is a mere address which has no consequence when it comes to his burial. There is a will but it also has to be weighed against cultural protocol. The family should argue why he shouldn't insist on the traditions that he should be the guardian of," Ndletyana said.

Nokuzola Mndende, a prominent Xhosa sangoma and former lecturer in religious studies at the University of Cape Town, described Mandla's decision to move the graves without consulting with the family as "arrogant".

"Mandla had a hidden agenda. He dug the bones of the deceased and reburied them in Mvezo without talking to his members of his family and clan elders. What he has done will bring him misfortune," Mndende said.