Factfile: The Mandela graves’ saga explained

Last week, Nelson Mandela's grandson Mandla Mandela was taken to court by Madiba's daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, over him moving family graves. Mandla is the chief of Mvezo, Mandela's birthplace, and moved the grave site of three of Mandela's children from Qunu.

But Makaziwe and 15 other members of the Mandela family, including Nelson Mandela's wife Graça Machel, won the case, forcing Mandla to return the graves.

Mandla accused the family of tricking the court into making a ruling in their favour, while his aunt said Mandla was only trying to cash in from Mandela's burial.

This week, Mandla may hear whether he will be criminally prosecuted in the ongoing drama.

Here is what you need to know to make sense of the story as it develops.

Whose graves are at issue?
It's all about where Nelson Mandela will be buried, really, but the battle has been fought by way of the location of the graves of three of his children; at least the Mandela family agrees he wished to be buried with his children.

The three graves are those of Magkatho Lewanika Mandela, Nelson Mandela's last son, whom the elder statesman himself disclosed in 2005 had died of Aids-related causes; Madiba Thembekile Mandela; and Makaziwe Mandela, who died as an infant and should not be confused with eldest daughter Pumla Makaziwe, known as Maki or Makaziwe.

Why did Mandla Mandela move the graves?
By his own telling, because he could. Mandla is the eldest son of Makgatho, and claims the right to decide where his father is buried. He is the oldest male grandchild of Nelson Mandela, which in traditional terms gives him a great deal of leeway in dealing with family matters. Those who know him well say he is also grimly determined to bring development to Mvezo, which has lagged far behind nearby Qunu even though it was Nelson Mandela's birthplace. The implication – though this has never been proven – is that Mandla wanted to secure Mvezo as Nelson Mandela's final resting place, in order to attract tourists and investment and so ensure a better future for his people.

Who is winning the grave fight?
Everyone but Mandla Mandela. Almost all the rest of the family have lined up against him, including (according to court documents) Machel and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Mandla had a weak legal case to begin with, but was completely out-played in court. He has also seen his traditional standing weakened with abaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo publicly denigrating him and his claim to chieftaincy.

Where does Nelson Mandela want to be buried?
In Qunu. There is little doubt about that. Early versions of Mandela's will specified Qunu, and he told several people as much, sometimes on camera. It is not clear whether his final testament may provide some room in the matter, but Mandela was consistently clear that his grave should be in Qunu.

Where will he be buried?
Unless things change dramatically, almost certainly in Qunu. The graves of his children have been moved back to Qunu, the faction of the family who want him buried there is firmly in charge, and preparations of the site are well advanced.

What does all of this mean for the future of the Mandela family?
The family may emerge from the entire saga more united than it has been for many years, with Mandla left in the cold and a new matriarch in charge – Makaziwe.

Makaziwe, who has been leading the legal charge against Mandla and those in control of trusts holding Nelson Mandela's money, now appears to be firmly in control of family affairs. She is the only surviving child of Nelson Mandela's first wife, Evelyn Mase. She has the support of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's oldest daughter Zenani, who in turn has close links to the government and the presidency; Zenani is South Africa's current ambassador to Argentina.

That leaves only Machel as a potential opposing force to Makaziwe, but despite her long marriage to Nelson Mandela, Machel by all accounts has firmly kept to the sidelines in family matters.

Who in the Mandela family is trying to profit from his name?
It may be faster to list those who are not trying to cash in on the Mandela name. Nelson Mandela's grandson, Zondwa Mandela, (who gained fame as the partner of Khulubuse Zuma, nephew of President Jacob Zuma, in the disastrous acquisition of the Aurora hold mine), registered a company to turn a profit on Mandela's upcoming birthday. 

Granddaughters Zaziwe and Swati have launched a clothing line named LWTF (for Long Walk to Freedom) and are starring in a reality TV series Being Mandela.

Makaziwe and her daughter Tukwini are trying to break into the wine market in the United States with a brand named House of Mandela. And virtually all of the children and grandchildren are involved in legal action to gain access to money raised in various ways by, and for, Nelson Mandela.

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Phillip De Wet
Guest Author

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