Mandela’s Family Feud: As Global Icon Lies in Hospital, Relatives’ Squabbles Intensify

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Alexander Joe / AFP / Getty Images

Nelson Mandela's family graves in Qunu, South Africa, on Jan. 28, 2011

Was there ever a more edifying contrast than between Nelson Mandela and his descendants? While the 94-year-old icon of humanity lies in the hospital, fighting a recurrent lung condition stemming from his 27 years in apartheid-era prisons, his family is fighting over the bones of his children. Let me repeat that. They’re fighting over the bones of his children.

At its heart, the dispute is about who gets to earn money from Mandela’s grave, which will likely become a site of national pilgrimage. In his will, Mandela requested to be buried next to his children, three of whom have already passed. Mandela’s first daughter Makaziwe died as an infant in 1948, his second son Madiba Thembekile died in a car accident in 1969 and his eldest son Makgatho died of complications due to HIV/AIDS in 2005.

Mandela had three wives, 17 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Sixteen members of the family have filed court papers alleging that some years ago Mandela’s grandson and Makgatho’s son Mandla — whom Mandela anointed head of the family after Makgatho’s death — dug up his relatives’ three graves in Qunu, the village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape to which Mandela retired. Mandla moved the remains to Mvezo, a village a short drive away where Mandela was born and where Mandla is building a four-story luxury hotel.

Last week the 16 family members were granted an interim court order in the nearby city of Mthatha to exhume the bodies once more and return them to the family graveyard in Qunu. A member of the Mandela family told South Africa’s Dispatch newspaper on Monday: “He stole the remains of Madiba’s children from Qunu to Mvezo in 2011 because he knew that [Mandela] would want to be buried with [his] children, and that would be his diamond field.”

Mandla’s lawyers have said he will contest the order. In a statement on Sunday, Mandla said he was “regrettably compelled” to go to court. “The way we are handling this matter is contrary to our customs and a deep disappointment to my grandfather and his ancestors,” he said. The case is set to resume in Mthatha on Tuesday.

As perhaps the most respected human being on the planet, Mandela was always going to be a hard act to follow. The party he once led, the African National Congress (ANC), has consistently failed to live up to his legacy, descending into corruption and factional infighting. Though the ANC has plumbed some real lows, even descending into out-and-out gangster war in several South African cities, to some extent venality among politicians is not unexpected.

But among a family called Mandela, alleged profiteering from the Mandela name feels excruciating. That hasn’t made it uncommon. In addition to the accusations against Mandla, Mandela’s former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was convicted of fraud in 2003 while his two granddaughters, Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini, earlier this year starred in a reality TV show, Being Mandela, billed as South Africa’s answer to the Kardashians.

It seems unlikely any court can find a lasting resolution to the divide in the house of Mandela. But here South Africa’s traditions may help. Several royal chiefs of Mandela’s Xhosa tribe have now intervened, calling a meeting next Monday to find a settlement “so as to bring the necessary harmony especially during this challenging period when the patriarch of the family is ill in hospital.” Using Mandela’s traditional name, Chief Thanduxolo Mtiraras said: “Nkosi Dalibhunga [Mandela] is a rare human being, hence his family is important to all of us. If we fail to resolve these matters, we risk the world looking upon our culture, values and beliefs with disrespect, and this we should not allow.”

Mandela’s values and beliefs were centered, above all, on the idea that birth did not determine virtue and ability. As the chiefs recognize, his own family only proves how right he was.

59 comments
renfieldc
renfieldc

Unless you've lived and spent many years in South Africa, as I have, you have not the vaguest idea of the differences between the disparate tribes and languages, which are trouble all the way. Nelson Mandela was a great leader, inspiration and intellect to all, both black and many whites but there's been nobody with any real intelligence worthy to succeed him. It gets worse as time passes.

JohnMcCarthy
JohnMcCarthy

It would be nice if he could leave them some of his humility and dignity.

Kim Fishbourne
Kim Fishbourne

Don't bring him down to this ok! Focus on what a great man he is, and how he has shaped the worlds history and future.

Sooke Gill
Sooke Gill

He is a global treasure & should be buried with an eternal flame like JFK or in a masoleum like Mao in China's Parliament buildings in Beijing.

Killian Stokes
Killian Stokes

This is a highly distasteful article. Whatever his family argue about is their business but Time magazine should not be writing about or posting such tack. The man is still alive. You are a bunch of vultures...

Otetsudai Shimashouka
Otetsudai Shimashouka

"..arguments among relatives over his resting place intensifies". Wad be wrung wid chu peoples. Smoke his a*** and use the ashes to cultivate the flowers beds. umm hmm

EW Heffernan
EW Heffernan

Why dont they just bury him where he wants to be buried end of arguement.

Uzazu_Uno
Uzazu_Uno

@TIME incredibly childish and sad. It goes against everything the man fought for.

Antony Def
Antony Def

"arguments intensify" (proper grammar usage)

Kathleen McNally
Kathleen McNally

Lol so perhaps the world will outgrow the greed, and not play the Mandela kin game. Avoid the National memorial since obviously its a family money making scheme. They end up broke, we move on.

juschas
juschas

@TIME @TIMEWorld Wow!!! He dug up dead relatives to move them for money. It's sad what money will do to a person.

NoorRahmina
NoorRahmina

@TIME @TIMEWorld IF the media did not report heinous items like this it would not give an ill cause any momentum at all !

Vivek Raina
Vivek Raina

It would be dignified to let him die and not speculate about it.

Martha Goff
Martha Goff

Families are the same all over the world...

Ramokhitlane J. Matlapaneng
Ramokhitlane J. Matlapaneng

Its always the case! Long Live Madiba, may God really give yu more of His Grace, to sustain yu. Take long plz!

Teddy Pendleton
Teddy Pendleton

the guy is still alive, who wants to look at the hole first

So watchya saying?
So watchya saying?

any sports fans around? we have a solid page for all things sports talk, check us out and join the conversation!!

Diane De Martini
Diane De Martini

No arguing. Just remember how fortunate we were to have him with us.

Robert Alexander Rungkat
Robert Alexander Rungkat

take him to the highest peak overlooking the land area facing the sea and place him in a plot seperate from all others when he does reach that stage

DaCubbie Blues
DaCubbie Blues

I don't know what the whole confusion is... he is going to be in the GROUND WHEREVER he goes... so what's the problem ?

Michael Alexander Kearsley
Michael Alexander Kearsley

Quite possibly he may make a recovery and some of the people arguing about his resting place may go to their own before him.

ptb1975
ptb1975

@TIME @TIMEWorld Was in SA, Talk of NM family fighting was on the high topic lists of SAfricans and how his death could change the country

Chrishills222
Chrishills222

@TIME This is tragic surely at this time,where ever he is he will finaly be free..

EvelineLandon
EvelineLandon

@TIME Why don't they ask him? Or why didn't they have that conversation with him when he was alert and well?

JoeBloggs
JoeBloggs

This is but the start!  Wait untill the poor man passes away, then sit back and watch the stomach turning antics of the Mandela clan, led by Winnie, make serious attempts to get there hands on ANYTHING that may be of value to them. I'm afraid this behaviour is prevalent amongst the better off Africans. There is ABSOLUTELY NO SHAME as they exploit the Mandela name in full!

Rajven
Rajven

@anuradha_kush This is a story you see in every house these days, be it India or otherwise !