The Mandela family feud

Andrew Donaldson asks whether Madiba was playing a practical joke when he offered Mandla the chieftanship

INTENSE speculation here at the Mahogany Ridge as to what alleged grave robber Mandla Mandela meant when he told a press conference on Thursday that his grandfather, former president Nelson Mandela, had a "cynistrical" sense of humour.

Was it a sinister sense of humour? Or cynical? Hysterical? Did he perhaps mean cylindrical? The Mvezo chief wasn't saying, and much to our regret, the media didn't push him for an explanation either.

Perhaps they had been stunned into disbelief by the battiness of his rambling attack on those family members who'd successfully challenged him in the Eastern Cape High Court, and Mandla was ordered to surrender the remains of his father and two of his father's siblings which he had dug up at Qunu in 2011 and moved to Mvezo.

Unsurprisingly, Mandla wasn't that happy with the court's decision, and said it was wrong the order was granted in his absence.

Here at the Ridge, we were wondering whether Mandla's presence would have had any effect on the court's ruling. As one regular said, "Given that this is a feud of Biblical proportions, maybe the courts would've come over all Solomon. ‘Okay, you can keep half the remains.'"

The thing about Mandla, though, is that he probably would have agreed to that. He is, it must be said, not the family brain surgeon.

But back to the Madiba brand of humour. Was he playing a practical joke on the youngster when he took him aside and offered him the poisoned chalice, "Here, you're not doing much with yourself these days, why not be chief of the royal house of Mandela?"

When his grandfather first approached him, he said no, he'd wanted to be a DJ. But the old man was persuasive, Mandla added, and took him to lunch, told him that if he really wanted to an independent sort of city guy, well, then he was going to be of no use to the people in the country.

"Though reluctant to leave my life and trek to the rural areas, my grandfather reminded me that my first responsibility should be that of service to our people," Mandla said. "I was duly installed [as chief] with my grandfather present, and the current king of the AbaThembu, Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, in a ceremony attended by my family, tradtional leaders across the country and our political representatives."

He skipped over the racy bits - like the weird crazy marriages to women who would later claim he was infertile - but he did reveal that the chief thing got to be a drag soon enough. Principal gripes would appear to be that (a) there were too many Mandelas who did things without his say-so, and (b) there were those who challenged the legitimacy of his chieftainship.

Regarding the latter, one culprit here would appear to be Dalindyebo, who is probably the first monarch ever to openly express his support for the Democratic Alliance. Perhaps it's his dagga smoking, but Dalindyebo has also accused Mandla of wanting to unseat him. "This is a laughable matter to say the least," Mandla explained. "I think the king wants to make me an escape goat from dealing with the difficult disputes that he faces in his own Dyalindyebo royal house." [He did say that, honest.]

As for not consulting him, well, he claimed that's how the Mandelas did things. He'd been asked if he had first checked with the rest of the family before digging up the graves at Qunu, and confirmed he hadn't. "I did what is a normality in this family," Mandla said, adding that he hadn't even been put in the loop about the burial plans for the former president.

On the plus side, though, the family had ordered him to deal with Mandela's swine. "Even last week I was ordered to remove the pigs there that are on the farm. As all of us know, my grandfather is a passionate farmer. He came back home to his humble beginnings and built a farm for himself where he kept cattle and pigs. But today all of that is being eroded without any consultation."

Such unilateralism could be a thing of the past before long. The royal house of Mandela may soon be the royal house of Mandla. "I think in the years coming we will ask one another, ‘Who are the Mandelas?' Because that is going to be essence of where to from here. We need to define ourselves. We need to be clear who are members of this family, we need to be clear when we convene family meetings who sits at these family meetings."

Sadly, we know who won't be there.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus

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