Sun Dec 04 12:14:43 SAST 2016

Row over Mandela's last resting place

BRETT HORNER and SIBUSISO NGWALA | 2011-05-29 03:08:29.00 Comments

A feud is brewing in former president Nelson Mandela's family following the surprise exhumation and reburial of three of his children this week.

The remains were exhumed from the family cemetery in Qunu in the Eastern Cape and reburied in Mvezo, about 40km away, by a local funeral parlour and officials of the provincial Department of Health.

Mvezo is Mandela's birthplace. The exhumations were ordered by his grandson and ANC MP, Mandla Mandela, who is the chief of the area.

The move has angered family members who spoke to the Sunday Times - and has thrown arrangements for Madiba's funeral in Qunu into disarray.

The government has spent millions beefing up the infrastructure in Qunu, building roads and pavements.

Yesterday, sources close to the family said they were not consulted and were angry at Mandla's move.

The exhumations, which were undertaken on Wednesday, took place four days after Mandela arrived at his homestead in Qunu for his first visit since being discharged from hospital in Johannesburg in January.

He is set to return to his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, today.

Officials of the provincial Department of Health and Jezile Funeral Home supervised the exhumations.

A hearse of Jezile Funeral Home transported three coffins to Mvezo.

Madiba and his wife, Graça, were not present at the exhumations, which were attended by Mandla and several elders from Mvezo. Members of the AbaThembu royal family also attended the exhumations.

The bodies that were exhumed were Mandela's children, sons Thembekile and Makgatho and infant daughter Makaziwe, who died in 1948, aged nine months.

The remains were transferred from their old coffins and placed in new oak and pine coffins.

In July last year, Mandla was accused of attempting to hijack Madiba's legacy from Qunu. He has for some time lured development to the remote village in a bid to boost its image as a tourist attraction.

Members of the Nelson Mandela Museum, a national heritage organisation overseeing Madiba's legacy projects in Mthatha and Qunu, last year accused Mandla of trying to strong-arm the National Lottery Board into giving him R8-million to complete the construction of a museum. He did this without their approval.

On Thursday, construction started on the R100-million Mandela Legacy Bridge, which will cross the Mbashe River and connect Mvezo with the N2 near Dutywa. The bridge is being built by the government.

The remains of six more members of Madiba's family are scheduled to be exhumed and reburied on a site near the family's original home in Mvezo.

On Friday, a senior member of the traditional council said the decision to move the remains was taken at a meeting on Monday at which Mandela was present.

"Not all the graves could be exhumed on the same day ... they were exhumed in the order of the time they died."

He said the exhumations would lead to the creation of a new family cemetery in Mvezo and that this would change plans for Madiba's funeral.

"The way things are going ... it means that Madiba will be buried in Mvezo," he said.

A draft schedule circulated by the Government Communication and Information System last year shows a burial site in Qunu.

Yesterday, a member of Madiba's family in Johannesburg said they were shocked to learn about the exhumations.

"No decision was made or finalised by the family," she said. She added that the traditional ceremony that often takes place before the removal of a person's remains had not been held in this case.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe's spokesman, Thabo Masebe, was yesterday unaware of this week's developments.

"I can't say anything about what Mandla Mandela is doing," he said.

Masebe said a special committee handling preparations for Madiba's funeral must be notified of any changes.

General Bantu Holomisa, a close family friend, declined to comment. Neither Mandla Mandela nor Mandela's daughter Zindzi could be reached yesterday for comment.

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