Nelson Mandela’s extensive family has continued the bitter squabbles that began before his death with a dispute over who is now their proper leader, days before the reading of his will is expected.
Both his oldest grandson, Mandla Mandela (pictured above with his late grand father), an ANC MP, who was nominated by the former statesman to be a traditional chief in his home province, and his eldest daughter by his first wife Evelyn, Makaziwe Mandela-Amuah, are seeking to win control of decision-making within the family over his legacy.
Her intervention earned a rebuke from the AbaThembu royal house to which the former South African president belonged. It called her remarks “disrespectful”. “Mandla Mandela is the only point of entry to the Mandela house and he remains the head of this house,” an AbaThembu spokesman said.
Last week, Mandla welcomed Prince Albert of Monaco and his South African wife, Charlene, “on behalf of the Royal House of Mandela”, to his powerbase, the Eastern Cape village of Mvezo where Mandela was born and where the grandson has built a Camelot-style resort.
Mandla said he saw his role as “promoting and maintaining the legacy” of his grandfather. But Mandla’s patriarchal stance could cause friction with other family members. It was reported last month that Makaziwe had gone as far as changing the locks at Mandela’s house in Qunu, in whose grounds he is buried, to bar Mandla from accessing it. It was also reported that Graca Machel, Mandela’s third wife and widow, had been given notice to vacate the Johannesburg home they shared. Makaziwe said the reports were “rubbish”.
Before Mandela’s death, when the 95-year-old was gravely ill in hospital, Makaziwe and other family members took the oldest grandson to court when it emerged he had secretly had three Mandela children exhumed from the family burial plot and moved to Mvezo.
In court papers, Makaziwe suggested he was seeking to have Mandela buried there alongside them, and to profit from the visitors that would flock to the gravesite. In response, Mandla called a press conference in which he said Makaziwe should, as a woman, focus on her husband’s family, adding that she had done little more than “sow division and destruction”.
Hostilities were suspended following Mandela’s death, and Mandla was widely praised for maintaining a dignified presence by his grandfather’s coffin throughout the lying in state and his transfer from his home in Johannesburg to Qunu for burial. The latest salvos are widely seen as preparing the ground for disputes over Mandela’s will.
Makaziwe and other family members have taken legal action against one of Mandela’s lawyers for control of a family trust containing his money, and have indicated they will challenge the will on the basis that it was last drafted when Mandela was losing his mental faculties.
The AbaThembu royal family said elders had already held one meeting with the family and would seek to mediate traditionally. “Immediate family members must mourn and their actions must resemble the dignity that Madiba deserves,” a spokesman said, referring to Mandela by his Xhosa clan name.
Bantu Holomisa, a close family friend, said there was no reason why one person should lead the family in the future. “The person who will be the head of the family is Graca Machel, Makaziwe and Chief Mandla Mandela,” he said. “Mandla is the traditional head and one expects that there will be a time where he will have the final say but they have been taught by Madiba himself to work collectively in his name. He never instructed for one person to be in control.”