Retired archbishop Desmond Tutu has called on Nelson Mandela's family to make peace, describing their public infighting over his children's graves as "almost like spitting in Madiba's face".
Tutu joined the governing African National Congress (ANC) and other commenters in expressing dismay at South Africa's most famous family tearing itself apart as the former president lies critically ill in hospital.
He appealed to the Mandela family to dig deep to find the grace that their patriarch and the nation deserved at this sombre moment, according to a statement from the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.
"Please, please, please may we think not only of ourselves," Tutu said. "It's almost like spitting in Madiba's face."
The archbishop emeritus, who led the campaign for Mandela's release during the dark years of racial apartheid, added: "We cannot imagine how difficult it must be for a family to endure being physically separated from its father for the 27 years that Mr Mandela spent in prison, only to have to share him with the world when freedom came.
"Your anguish, now, is the nation's anguish – and the world's. We want to embrace you, to support you, to shine our love for Madiba through you. Please may we not besmirch his name."
The remains of Mandela's three deceased children were reburied at their original resting place on Thursday. A court had ordered their return two years after Mandela's grandson, Mandla, moved the bodies.
Family members and community elders attended a ceremony on the Mandela property that included the singing of hymns. The reburial took place in Qunu, Mandela's hometown and the place the former president has said he wants to be buried.
Mandela's eldest daughter, Makaziwe, led the legal action against her nephew Mandla. In an extraordinary press conference he lashed out, saying that his grandfather would be highly disappointed, and spilled family secrets.
The ANC's chaplain, Vukile Mehana, held a prayer for Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg on Thursday and made reference to "disturbing things" that were seen and heard in relation to the family.
Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, was praised for her composure at the same event. South Africa's Daily Maverick website commented on Friday: "That slight tremor you felt yesterday was not the grinding or snapping of tectonic plates. It was 50-million palms slapping an equal number of foreheads as Mandla Mandela disgraced his family. His vomit of dirty secrets drowned out a powerful and dignified voice we should all have been listening to: that of Nelson Mandela's wife, Graca Machel." – © Guardian News and Media 2013