Mandela family feud gets uglier

As the controversy around Nelson Mandela's children and grandchildren turns ever more to the issue of the legitimacy of Mandla Mandela's chieftaincy, the grandson of the global icon has hit back at king Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo of the abaThembu tribe, calling him "unstable".

This followed startling claims by the king that Mandla was not the legitimate heir to the Madiba clan chieftaincy. He claimed that there was no certificate of legitimacy signed when Mandela became the chief in 2007 – a ceremony personally overseen by Nelson Mandela.

The Mail & Guardian reported last week that Mandla's chieftaincy was criticised before Nelson Mandela's recent admission to hospital, with questions arising around whether he should be the chief given that his mother and father were not married. 

Nelson Mandela, meanwhile, remains in hospital, in a "critical but stable" condition, according to the presidency. He will turn 95 on July 18. The M&G revealed on Wednesday that the global icon is being assisted in breathing by a life-support machine.

The ongoing feud between Mandla and his aunt, Makaziwe Mandela, and other members of the family, now appears to be additional ammunition for those members of the royal house who would see Mandla removed as chief.  On Saturday, Dalindyebo said he could not respect someone who "does not respect their own family" and said Mandla's brother, Ndaba, was actually the rightful chief. 

But on Sunday night, Mandla hit back via his spokesperson, Freddy Pilusa: "The announcement made by king Dalindyebo that he has relieved nkosi Mandela of his traditional duties is laughable. It takes a long customary process to appoint a chief and it takes a long customary process to remove a chief. You don't just wake up and call a meeting of followers and make such a decision," Pilusa said. 

He said the king had a "habit of making delusional announcements". 

'An unstable person'
"Recently he made claims that nkosi Mandela wishes to unseat him. In December 2010, after being sentenced to 15 years in jail for a string of violent crimes, the king sent a letter to our Parliament announcing that he is seceding from South Africa if the jail sentence is not reversed … This is an unstable person and therefore what he says can never be taken seriously. He has no authority to remove any chief from their duties without following due customary processes," Pilusa said.

According to a senior member of the abaThembu royal family, Dalindyebo may not be a ruler for much longer himself after the criticisms of Mandla.

Mandla lost a court case last week that saw the Eastern Cape High Court in Mthatha order that he should return the remains of three of Nelson Mandela's children from his home in Mvezo to their original place of burial in Qunu. 

The heated court battle saw Nelson Mandela's eldest daughter, Makaziwe, his wife, Graça Machel, and 14 other Mandela family members pitted against Mandla. 

In court papers obtained by the M&G, Makaziwe claimed her nephew had dug up the graves of Madiba's three children in 2011 in an effort to "force" Nelson Mandela's eventual burial, and the tourism that would inevitably follow, to The Great Place in Mvezo. 

"The relationship between the Mandela family and [Mandla] has taken strain in recent times," Makaziwe told the court in an affidavit.

"And, on one particular occasion, when [Mandla] felt particularly alienated by the Mandela family, he caused the remains to be dug up on the family plot in Qunu, and transported and then re-interred them at his homestead, The Great Place, Mvezo," she said. 

Discovering empty graves
Makaziwe explained that the Mandela family only learned of the grave-digging at a family meeting held on June 25. 

"It was on this date when the Mandela family decided to dig up the so-called 'graves' at their farm in Qunu, only to discover that the 'graves' were empty, that [Mandla] then admitted that he had secretly removed the remains in the dead of night to bury these remains at Mvezo Great Place."

Makaziwe further claimed that Mandla moved the graves for financial gain – that he was hoping to cash in on the inevitable shrine which would accompany the place Nelson Mandela is buried. 

"It is conceivable that such a heritage site has the potential to generate monetary gain. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that [Mandla Mandela] has already begun preparations at the Great Place in Mvezo, inclusive of construction buildings," she said. 

The M&G understands a Nelson Mandela museum is on the cards for The Great Place, at a resort currently under construction by Mandla and the Mvezo Development Trust, which he chairs. 

Madiba's 'perilous' health
Makaziwe then revealed that Nelson Mandela was on life-support and that his health was "perilous". 

"The applicants are desirous of burying their father and committing him to the earth in which his descendants' remains lie. It is incontestable that these are the wishes of Nelson Mandela. The applicants do not want a situation to be created in which Nelson Mandela's remains are committed to lie in a burial site, entirely alone and forlorn and absent from those remains of his children," the court was told through the affidavit. 

Makaziwe claimed Mandla did not seek permission to move the graves. It was a claim that her nephew vehemently denied at a press conference convened in Mvezo on Thursday. 

There, Mandla told the press that Makaziwe and others had known about the removal of the graves since 2011. He questioned why they said nothing about it until Nelson Mandela's recent hospitalisation. 

Mandla also said he would not interfere with Nelson Mandela's burial site unless there were instructions about it in the former statesman's will. But Makaziwe and others claimed in court that Mandela's will specifies that he wants to be buried in Qunu.

Grand visit
Meanwhile, Nelson Mandela's grand-children paid him a routine visit on Friday morning amid the highly publicised Mandela family fall-out. Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway, Swati Dlamini and Ndaba Mandela drove into mediclinic in a red Range Rover to see the ailing statesman, whom, the office of the presidency insists is in "a stable but critical condition".

The festival-like atmosphere outside the hospital has since died-down following two weeks of crowd management by the South African police. Small groups from various institutions, including Ikwekwezi FM staff and listeners held a prayer.

Meanwhile, Parliament held its own prayer session in Cape Town. Doctors and the office of the presidency have disputed media reports that Nelson Mandela's doctors had advised that his life support be turned off because he is in a "vegetative state".

On Friday, Nelson Mandela spent close to a month in the Pretoria Heart Hospital, following a lung infection that has put him in a critical condition.

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Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 


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