South Africa

Mandla Mandela and the chamber of secrets

By Ranjeni Munusamy 5 July 2013

Of course Mandla Mandela was not going to take it lying down. When the Mthatha High Court ruled against him on Wednesday, thereby allowing the remains of Nelson Mandela’s three children to be returned to Qunu, it was obvious that Mandla would not simply let it go. On Thursday he hit back at his family with a vengeance, slashing open deeply buried family secrets and questioning the legitimacy of those he feels are ganging up against him. And so the ignoble saga takes another sordid twist, making a mockery of the name revered around the world. It seems the one person constantly at Mandela’s side, who is not a Mandela, knows the true value of that name. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

The remains of three of Nelson Mandela’s children were reburied on Thursday. So at least that messy chapter is over. Well, it isn’t really. The remains of Mandela’s sons Makgatho and Thembekile, and an infant called Makaziwe were not buried in their original graves at the family graveyard from where they were exhumed two years ago but in a new gravesite on the Qunu farm where Nelson Mandela’s home is. As things stand, this will also be Madiba’s final resting place. The new site is the core of the current feud tearing apart the Mandela family.

It has now emerged that two years ago Makaziwe, Madiba’s eldest surviving daughter, had instructed Mandla, the head of the Mandela clan, to remove the remains of her siblings from the family gravesite at Qunu and bury them across the N2 on the farm where she intends to bury her father. Mandla, Madiba’s eldest grandson, instead moved the remains to his homestead at Mvezo, some 20 kilometres away. This, he claims, was a temporary move until Madiba’s will reveals where exactly the elder statesman wants to be buried is made known.

The latest revelation puts paid to the claim by Makaziwe Mandela that she did not know that the bodies were exhumed. It is just that her nephew did not follow all of her instructions.

So why this clamour about the gravesite? Nelson Mandela’s final resting place will no doubt become a monument, where people will come from around the world to pay homage. It will be a site of pilgrimage and a tourist attraction. Therefore, whoever controls access to this gravesite will reap substantial rewards. What this reveals is that nobody engaged in the Mandela family feud has noble intentions. It is not about honouring Madiba’s wishes and definitely not about giving him the respect he deserves while he is seriously ill in hospital, struggling to breathe.

The battle in the Mandela family has been a sideshow to Mandela’s hospitalisation and the daily pilgrimage of well-wishers to pray and show him love and gratitude. On Wednesday, there were dramatic scenes outside Mandla’s Mvezo homestead when the sheriff and other members of the family broke through the front gates to get access to the graves. The bones were exhumed and kept in a mortuary overnight where they underwent tests to verify that they were the remains of Mandela’s children.

On Thursday, the saga took an astonishing twist when in the full glare of the media, Mandla pried open the family closet and revealed the skeletons stacked in it.

At a media conference at his homestead in Mvezo, where he presides as chief of the traditional council, Mandla took the soap opera family feud and turned it into a Jerry Springer-like spectacular. Bruised from having lost the court case initiated by 16 Mandela family members, and also facing charges of grave tampering, Mandla decided to publicly deride and disgrace his relatives.

So the sordid allegations flowed thick and fast. Mandla claimed that his family targeted him because he refused to join the court action undertaken by his aunts Makaziwe and Zenani to gain control of Nelson Mandela’s artworks and riches.

“I still refuse to be associated with the court actions that are a clear squabble over my grandfather’s money. This too shall come to [the] surface,” Mandla said.

He said his grandfather told him he wanted to be buried in the family gravesite in Qunu, and not at the farm where the rest of the family wants him buried now. For this reason, Mandla says he moved the remains of Mandela’s three children to a temporary site in Mvezo until the will could give clarity on the matter through the former president’s will. He questioned why the family members party to the legal action had not raised concerns about the move all along.

“For the past two years, the people on the list have never raised concerns about the repatriation of these remains. Two years later when my grandfather is gravely ill in hospital this matter is brought up as an extremely urgent matter. I am still struggling to date why the matter is urgent now when it has never been urgent in the past two years.”

According to Mandla, Mvezo is the family’s true home as his great grandfather Nkosi Mphakanyisa Mandela exiled to Qunu in the 1920s when the chieftaincy was expropriated from the family. He said when his family was offered the opportunity to resume their rightful place at Mvezo, his grandfather asked him to take responsibility and assume the role of the traditional chief, as he was too old, and his eldest son Makgatho was deceased.

Mandla is clearly stung that his legitimacy as the chief is now being questioned by his younger brother Ndaba and other family members who claim that since he is born out of wedlock he should not have been conferred with the position.

After stating at the media briefing that he did not want to air the family’s dirty laundry in public, he proceeded to do just that. He claimed Ndaba was illegitimate, as their father Makgatho had impregnated a married woman.

“He should be careful when insulting my mother,” Mandla said. He also claimed that his other two brothers, Mbuso and Andile, were not his father’s children and attempts to conduct DNA tests to prove their paternity were resisted.

In another startling revelation, Mandla alleged the child his ex-wife Anais Grimaud gave birth to in 2011 was actually Mbuso’s son. “Mbuso impregnated my wife,” Mandla said, stunning journalists at the briefing and viewers watching the live broadcast.

Many people have been parading as the Mandela family and participating in the day-to-day decision-making of the Mandela family, Mandla said.

With regard to his main adversary, Makaziwe, Mandla said she should be focussing on the family she was married into instead of trying to control what happens in the Mandela family.

“She is in actual fact Mrs Amuah and ought to be focussing on Amuah family. As my aunt, her role within Makgatho’s family is supposed to be that of a unifier and reconciler but so far she has sown division and destruction in that family,” Mandla said.

He said most of the individuals in the list of applicants in the court action against him had “no business to be discussing Mandela matters according to our customs”. “At the moment it seems like anyone can come and say I am a Mandela and demand to be part of decision-making process of the family. Individuals have abandoned their own families and heritage and decided to jump on the Mandela wagon,” Mandla said.

It has been rather curious that all of Mandela’s children, grandchildren and great children bear the surname, but nobody has dared to question it before. The name is clearly a hot ticket to stardom and is being passed down the line even when there is no entitlement to it.

The effect of the angry and hurt Mandla emptying the Mandela chamber of secrets is that there is now no hope of reconciliation in the family anytime soon. While nobody has responded to his claims and accusations as yet, Mandla will no doubt be made to pay for them.

While the Mandela family feud gets murkier, Graca Machel briefly left her husband’s bedside to address an event in Johannesburg, where she expressed her gratitude for the love and support during Madiba’s hospitalisation. “The outpouring and humbling demonstrations of love, of care, of support, of hope are taken into our hearts every single day,” she said.

The world also got rare insight from Machel into her husband’s condition: “although Madiba sometimes may be uncomfortable, very few times he’s in pain, but he’s fine.”

And through her own trauma and pain, she is still able to see the silver lining: “Whatever is the outcome of his stay at hospital that will remain the second time where he offered his nation an opportunity to be united.”

When Graca Machel married Nelson Mandela on his 80th birthday, she opted to keep her first husband, former Mozambican president Samora Machel’s name. Therefore she is the only person in Madiba’s immediate family not bearing his name, and yet is the only one trying to protect it and uphold his legacy.

Irony doesn’t get more pointed than that. DM

Photo: Mandla Mandela (C), grandson of former South African President Nelson Mandela, talks to journalists during a news conference in Mvezo in the Eastern Cape of South Africa July 4, 2013, a day after a court order to exhume the remains of three of the anti-Apartheid hero’s children. Within hours of the ruling against Mandla Mandela by the high court in Mthatha, police and hearses arrived at Mandla’s complex in the nearby village of Mvezo, where the three Mandela offspring are buried. Mvezo is the birthplace of Nelson Mandela. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

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