Nelson Mandela’s eldest grandson on Thursday ended his fight over where to bury the remains of the ailing former president’s three deceased children, but the family’s messy and highly public feud grew more acrimonious.
At a news conference in the village of Mvezo in Eastern Cape province, Mandla Mandela said he would not challenge a court ruling ordering the exhumation of the remains, which he had secretly taken to Mvezo two years ago, allegedly to ensure that his grandfather would be buried there. The 94-year-old anti-apartheid hero has said that he wants to be buried next to his children, but in Qunu, the village where he grew up.
The remains were reburied Thursday at their original site in Qunu following forensic tests to determine the children’s identities and a solemn ceremony that family members and elders of Mandela’s clan attended.
“I was denied the right to be heard,” Mandla Mandela said. “I will not challenge this further; it will serve no purpose.”
But he lashed out at his relatives, accusing them of seeking to claim Mandela’s legacy for ulterior motives.
“This is the very family who has taken their own grandfather to court for his money,” Mandla Mandela said, referring to legal efforts by his aunts to take control of companies set up by Nelson Mandela to manage royalties from the sale of his art.
Mandela was hospitalized June 8 for a recurring lung infection, and South Africans have been praying for his recovery and gathering in support outside his hospital in the administrative capital, Pretoria.
Reports on his health have at times been confusing.
South African President Jacob Zuma told the nation Thursday that Mandela remained in critical but stable condition.
But South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper said it had obtained a court affidavit — from the case brought by 16 Mandela relatives last week against Mandla Mandela, seeking to exhume the remains and return the bodies to Qunu — that described the icon as in “perilous health” and “assisted in breathing by a life-support machine.”
“The anticipation of his impending death is based on real and substantial grounds,” the document read, according to the newspaper.
Yet on Thursday, Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, said that her husband is sometimes uncomfortable but has never been in pain while undergoing medical treatment.
Then reports emerged Thursday evening that Mandela was in a “permanent vegetative state” and that his doctors had advised his family to turn off his life-support machine, according to a court document dated June 26 obtained by the Agence-France Presse news agency.
But Mac Maharaj, a government spokesman, denied that Mandela was in a vegetative state.
Thursday’s reburial came after an Eastern Cape High Court judge ruled against Mandla Mandela and ordered him to return the bodies to Qunu. But he didn’t comply with the order, forcing a sheriff to arrive at his homestead in Mvezo and break open a locked gate with a pickax. The sheriff, along with some of Mandela’s relatives, then entered the homestead to search for the graves. The bodies were exhumed and transported in a large black hearse to a mortuary.
Mandla Mandela accused Mandela's daughter Makaziwe Mandela of seeking to “sow divisions and destruction” in her family. She has been leading the family’s court case against Mandla and is one of the daughters suing to take control of Nelson Mandela’s companies.
Mandla also criticized his
grandfather’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, saying she had “no business in the matters of the Mandelas.”
In recent days, Madikizela-Mandela has played a visible role, frequently visiting her former husband in the hospital and vocally criticizing Zuma and other ruling African National Congress leaders for taking photos with a frail Mandela and releasing them to the public.