Mandela family feud upsetting society and African tradition
The family of Nelson Mandela is being urged to stop their infighting and let him die in peace
A man forces open the gate of the property of Mandla Mandela, grandson Nelson Mandela, following a court hearing clearing the way to remove the remains of the former leader’s children from his property . Photograph: Siegfried Modola /Reuters
Nelson Mandela has dedicated himself to peace and reconciliation. So the sight of his family at war over money and the control of his legacy is particularly unedifying to South Africans.
This week bailiffs had to break into a makeshift cemetery to retrieve the bodies of three of Mandela’s children which had been controversially relocated. Claims have been made of grave-robbing. Insults and allegations of “illegitimacy” are flying. And all this while their father and grandfather, South Africa’s beloved Madiba, lies critically ill in a Pretoria hospital.
In one corner stands Mandela’s eldest daughter Makaziwe, who orchestrated the court action over the burial ground. In the other stands Mandla, the former president’s grandson and oldest male heir, who has accused his aunt of “seeking revenge” against him for opposing her bid to access a family trust. Some of the squabbling would be typical of any family, but the Mandelas don’t have the privilege of privacy. Their lives have never been normal, something the anti-apartheid hero himself has acknowledged with sadness.
“When your life is the struggle, as mine was, there is little room left for family,” Mandela said in 1992, two years after his release from prison. “That has always been my greatest regret and the most painful aspect of the choice I made.”
Makaziwe was one of those who suffered for her father’s politics. She was 10-years-old when the African National Congress leader was jailed on Robben Island and she wasn’t able to see him again until she turned 16 because of prison rules.
The youngest of four children who Mandela had with his first wife Evelyn Mase, Makaziwe has spoken of how his absence left her with a feeling of “not really [being] loved”. While she had come to terms with this, her two brothers had died without a reconciliation with their father, she added.
Today, Makaziwe is a successful businesswoman, sitting on the boards of several companies as well as setting up her own wine label, House of Mandela. The latter has been criticised by some family members who don’t like the name’s link with alcohol.
More controversially, she has joined in a court action with her half-sister Zenani to try to remove some of their father’s closest confidants from his Mandela Trust. This controls image rights and channels funds into his various foundations.
Court papers filed by Mandela’s lawyer Bally Chuene in May accused the daughters of amending a trust deed in secret so they could gain access to Nelson’s wealth. The lawyer claims he was “infuriated” by his daughters’ attempts to gain control of the trust without his knowledge.
It is a charge the daughters deny, and the case is due to return to the Johannesburg High Court. But the optics are not good. One of the trustees the two women are trying to remove is George Bizos, a respected lawyer who famously represented Mandela at the 1964 Rivonia treason trial.
As for Mandla, he suffers his own burden from the weight of his grandfather’s reputation. In an extraordinary press conference on Thursday, after a High Court judge in Eastern Cape deemed his actions in moving the bodies as “scandalous” and “vicious”, the appointed chief of the Mandela clan accused the other family members of acting against Nelson’s wishes.
His homestead of Mvezo, where Mandela was born, remains one of the poorest parts of South Africa, a world away from Johannesburg where his aunts mix in high society.