At the moment, the Mandela family is not upholding one of Nelson Mandela’s most revered values; unity. The family finds itself torn as Makaziwe and Mandla lock horns in a legal battle at the Eastern Cape High Court. Makaziwe is former president Nelson Mandela’s eldest daughter from his first marriage. Mandla is the stateman’s grandson by his late son, Makgatho Lewanika Mandela. Makgatho Mandela passed away due to an HIV-related illness in 2005.
Three years ago Mandla, who is the chief of the Mvezo traditional council, exhumed the bodies of five family members from the Mandela family burial site in Qunu to the Mvezo district. He did not consult the rest of the family when he did this and it is not known what inspired this drastic move by Mandla. One of the relatives that were removed from Qunu is Mandla’s father, Makgatho Mandela.
It emerged through the media that the family has been in private meetings to discuss bringing the remains back to Qunu to their original burial site. Mandla stormed out of one of those meetings which resulted in the family, led by Makaziwe, taking the matter to court.
It has been said that some in the family believe that Nelson Mandela’s suffering is the consequence of the ancestors’ reaction to Mandla disturbing the graves of the deceased. In Xhosa culture, as with many others in Africa, graves are sacred and it is believed that to interfere with the deceased in their graves can bring about severe consequences including illness, inability to have children and difficulty in work engagements. As it is, Mandla is childless and villagers think that is evidence that the ancestors are not pleased with his conduct.
Close family friend and UDM leader, General Bantu Holomisa, spoke to journalists about his relationship with former president Mandela as well as the family feud. He said that though the situation is tense, he was glad that the family was in talks trying to find a solution. Holomisa said: “If they don’t do that (find a solution), they will offend Madiba in one way or another.”
Makaziwe, 59, yields a lot of power within the Mandela family because she is the eldest of Mandela’s children and as such, she is always consulted on all the issues that affect the family. However Mandla, at 38, is the icon’s eldest male descendant and is expected by some to assume leadership of the Mandela family should Nelson Mandela pass away.
There seems to be an apparent power struggle between Makaziwe and Mandla who have made no secret of the coldness between them. Mandla intends to challenge the court interdict granted on Friday. The court ordered him to return the remains of the deceased family members to Qunu.
Makaziwe has been on a warpath since before the issue of the unauthorised exhumations. Makaziwe and her sister Zenani are also suing their father over his assets including an art collection. That legal battle was abruptly interrupted by the former president’s hospital admission. It is not clear if that lawsuit will resume should Mandela recover. However, what concerns most people is the division of the family of the man who united an entire country.