Bodies exhumed as Mandela clan row unfolds
Court papers filed by disputing family members say health of ex-leader ‘perilous’
Makaziwe Mandela, daughter of former South African president Nelson Mandela, during the final court hearing concerning the removal of the remains of the former leader’s children in the high court of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Photograph: Reuters
Nelson Mandela’s health is “perilous” and he is using assisted breathing in a Pretoria hospital, according to court documents disclosed yesterday in a dispute between family members.
“The anticipation of his impending death is based on real and substantial grounds,” read an affidavit obtained by media agencies in Eastern Cape.
The document was filed eight days ago by Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe Mandela and 15 others, including the struggle icon’s wife Graça Machel, as part of their dispute with his grandson over the family burial site.
The grandson, Mandla Mandela, had the bodies of three of the former president’s children exhumed from Qunu in 2011 and reburied 20km away in his village of Mvezo, where he was believed to be planning a tourist attraction.
Last Friday the other family members sought a court order to reverse the exhumations.
The affidavit filed on that date said “Nelson Mandela’s health is perilous. [An] affidavit will be provided from physicians that he is assisted in breathing by a life-support machine,” according to the Mail & Guardian, one of the agencies that had sight of the document.
“The applicants are desirous of burying their father and committing him to the earth in which his descendants’ remains lie.”
The high court in Mthatha ordered the bodies be returned yesterday but there was further drama when three hearses arrived at Mvezo to be confronted by locked gates.
Workmen had to break through the barrier with a pitchfork before the exhumations could take place in a private family ceremony.
Three of Mandela’s six children predeceased him: an earlier daughter called Makaziwe, who died at nine months; Thembekile, who died in a car crash in 1969 and whose funeral the anti-apartheid leader was vindictively not allowed to attend; and Makgatho, who died of an Aids-related illness in 2005.
Mandela has always said he wishes to be buried alongside his offspring.
The affidavit also alleged that Mandla Mandela’s motive in moving the remains was for financial gain.
However, yesterday the former president’s eldest male heir said he did not oppose the exhumations and would return to the court today to explain his actions.
The three bodies arrived in Mvezo at about 7pm, and it was expected the reburials would not take place until this morning.
Mandela was admitted to the Pretoria Mediclinic Heart Hospital on June 8th with a lung infection. His condition deteriorated last week and he remains “critical but stable”, according to the South African government.
Yesterday, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille laid flowers outside the hospital amid the throngs of well-wishers. In Soweto, more than 500 childcare workers gathered outside Mandela’s former home, paying tribute to his campaigning for children’s rights.
In Johannesburg, meanwhile, leading figures in the African National Congress held a prayer meeting on the street next to party headquarters Luthuli House. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said: “We want him to live long because he is our icon, he is our leader, he symbolises what the ANC stands for.”