JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — While Nelson Mandela remains gravely ill in hospital, the former South African president’s eldest grandson is facing criminal charges of tampering with graves in the family cemetery.
Police in the Eastern Cape have confirmed that a case was opened Tuesday against Mandla Mandela, who family members say moved the remains of his father, Makgatho, and Nelson Mandela’s two other deceased children without seeking permission.
Mandela’s eldest surviving daughter, Makaziwe, and 16 other family members have taken 38-year-old Mandla to court in a civil case, seeking to have the remains returned to the family plot in Qunu village.
They accuse Mandla of exhuming the three graves and relocating the bodies from Qunu to Mvezo, where Nelson Mandela was born and where Mandla is the traditional chief, in 2011 without informing the rest of the family.
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Judge Lusindiso Pakade, who has called Mandla's actions "scandalous" and vicious," has ordered that Mandla have the bodies returned to Qunu before 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Mandla initially challenged the order, in a case being heard at the High Court in Mthatha, but has now said he will allow the bodies to be exhumed. Hearses and funeral parlor officials are reportedly in Mvezo to unearth the remains.
Nelson Mandela, whose 95th birthday is July 18, remains in critical but stable condition in what is now his fourth week at the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria.
He previously expressed a wish to be buried in Qunu, alongside his parents and the three children he outlived. Mandela had in recent years spent much of his time at his country residence in Qunu, the village where he lived as a boy.
The remains are of his son Thembekile, who died in a car accident in 1969, his first daughter Makaziwe who died in 1948 at just nine months old, and Makgatho who died in 2005 from an AIDS-related illness.
In a sign of the deepening dispute, an unnamed elder in the Mandela clan told the Mail & Guardian that Mandla is an illegitimate child and should never have been named chief.
Meanwhile Ndaba Mandela, 29, described his half-brother Mandla as “a power-hungry, self-obsessed man who is only concerned about himself.”
He said the family originally supported Mandla as chief of Mvezo, but now realize that was a mistake, the Daily Dispatch newspaper reported, posting audio of the interview.
Mandla moved to Mvezo in 2007 to take up the chieftainship, a title that had been held by his great-grandfather, Nelson Mandela’s father, until he lost it in a dispute with a local magistrate.
He is overseeing the state-funded construction of a multi-purpose center in Mvezo, which includes a community hall, cultural center and a backpackers' lodge to draw tourists. Mandla has also built a traditional homestead for himself located next to the site of the round hut, or "rondavel," where Nelson Mandela was born.
The ruins of the birthplace were destroyed when Mandla built a replica of the original hut directly on top of the site. This angered officials with the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha, who had wanted to preserve the ruins.
Gwede Mantashe, secretary general of the ruling African National Congress party, on Tuesday urged the Mandela family to sort out their problems.
"That [family disagreement] is a worrying factor but the family must look at Mandela and see that Mandela was a unifier," he told reporters at an ANC prayer service for Mandela in Johannesburg.
"They must reconcile. They must talk to each other and find a solid common goal."
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