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Mandela family feud: South Africa’s shocking soap opera

A grave-digging dispute has added to the bitter family feuding, over sex, money and power, among Nelson Mandela’s heirs which has set South Africans on edge as the anti-apartheid icon lies critically ill in hospital. 

The Nobel peace laureate is famous the world over for spending 27 years in jail and then reconciling with his white oppressors after he became the nation’s first black president. 

But as the 94-year-old Mandela fights for his life, a legal battle among feuding relatives over his eventual resting place has descended into a messy public soap opera. 

Mandela’s three deceased children were reburied on Thursday after 15 family members, including his three daughters and wife Graca Machel, won an urgent court order against Mandela’s oldest grandson, Mandla. 

The family said the 39-year-old Mandla, who is the clan’s traditional chief had moved the remains from Mandela’s childhood home in 2011 without the consent of the rest of the family. 

Shortly before the remains were re-buried, Mandla, in a nationally televised news conference Thursday, launched a tirade against the rest of the family. He accused his aunt, the anti-apartheid hero’s daughter Makaziwe, of trying to ‘sow divisions and destruction’. 

After saying he wouldn’t air the family’s ‘dirty linen’ in public, Mandla went on to say his brother Mbuso had ‘impregnated my wife’. He also said his two other brothers were born out of wedlock. 

The dispute has earned the Mandelas the doubtful accolade of being seen as South Africa’s Ewings, a comparison with US soap opera Dallas which recounts a wealthy Texas family’s intrigues and conspiracies. 

‘Mandla Mandela has become the veritable JR Ewing of the Mandela family,’ internet website Daily Maverick wrote, comparing him to the show’s anti-hero. 

The grave dispute touches on Mandela’s own eventual resting place. In the past he had said he wanted to be buried in Qunu, his rural childhood village and retirement home in the country’s rolling southern hills. 

The former statesman’s parents lie here, as do Mandela’s three children, who died in 1948, 1969 and 2005. 

His family argued Mandla wanted to change Mandela’s gravesite to Mvezo and so moved the children’s remains to stake his claim for a new burial site. 

South Africans have reacted with shock at their disagreements. 

‘The public is trying to give them space to run their affairs but they are busy displaying their dirty linen for all to see,’ wrote Michael Mokoena in a letter local daily The Times. 

‘I should think they can come together and try to resolve this matter and not take each other to court,’ a woman named Johanna told AFP. 

The tiff has also elicited comments from the country’s moral compass and another Nobel peace laureate, Desmond Tutu. 

‘Please, please, please may we think not only of ourselves. It’s almost like spitting in Madiba’s face,’ Tutu pleaded in a statement, referring to Mandela by his clan name. 

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj called the dispute ‘regrettable’ and urged the Mandela damily to resolve their differences ‘as amicably and as soon as possible’. 

But does the scandal really stop there?  
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