A family dispute over the burial site for Nelson Mandela‘s three deceased children deepened Sunday, as the former South African president remained in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital with a recurring lung infection.
Mandela’s controversial grandson, Mandla, chief of the Mvezo area in the Eastern Cape Province, announced that he planned to fight a court order for the return of the bodies to their original resting place in Qunu, the village where the elder Mandela grew up and later retired.
Mandla Mandela had the bodies exhumed in 2011, reportedly without informing other family members, and reburied in Mvezo, where Nelson Mandela was born.
Each side, seeking to ensure the graves are located in an area they control, has accused the other of angering the family ancestors by infringing on African tradition.
At the heart of the dispute is Mandela’s reported desire to be buried next to his children.
South African newspapers reported Friday that the court action for the return of the bodies to Quru, led by Nelson Mandela’s eldest surviving daughter, Makaziwe, was successful. However, Mandla Mandela wasn’t in court that day and claims not to have received a summons, left outside his locked front gate.
In a statement Sunday, Mandla Mandela expressed disappointment and anger over his relatives’ decision to go to court over the matter.
“The way we are handling these matters is contrary to our customs and a deep disappointment to my grandfather and his ancestors,” he said.
He called on the family to “avoid actions and decisions that will infringe on the dignity of my grandfather,” adding, “Regrettably and reluctantly I am compelled to go to court and respond to the action taken against me.”
Critics have accused Mandla Mandela of moving the bodies to Mvezo because he wanted his grandfather to be buried there, making the village a future tourist draw.
South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper reported that some village elders believed that Nelson Mandela was deeply troubled by the feuding in his family.
One faction, opposed to Mandla Mandela, claims that the elder Mandela’s frequent recent illnesses weren’t only the result of age, but because the ancestors were angry that the bodies of his children had been moved.
They include a daughter, also named Makaziwe, who died in infancy; a son, Thembekile, who was killed in a car accident at age 24, and another son, Makgatho, Mandla’s father, who died at 54 of an AIDS-related illness.