Hands off Mandela marriage, say chiefs

2012-01-14 15:20

Chiefs in Eastern Cape are rallying behind one of their own, Thembu Chief Mandla Mandela, who faces possible contempt charges for ignoring a court order to stop his latest wedding.

The traditional leaders are arguing that the ceremony, held on December 24, was not a wedding but a celebration of a union which had already been concluded months earlier.

Chief Mandela, the grandson of former president Nelson Mandela and an ANC parliamentarian, married his new bride Mbalenhle Makhathini despite his estranged wife Thando Mabunu-Mandela’s efforts to stop the union.

She had previously managed to nullify another of Chief Mandela’s marriages, this time to French woman Anais Grimaud, because their divorce had not been finalised.

Mandela and his new bride did not comply with the court interdict and went ahead with the celebrations, leading to Mabunu-Mandela laying bigamy charges against the chief.

Chief Mandela has chosen to remain silent on his latest nuptials and pending divorce, but other Thembu chiefs and traditionalists have leapt to his defence.

The ANC in the province has asked for a meeting with Mandela, but no date has been set yet.

Mfundo Mtirara, a close family member of the Mandelas, questioned the validity of the interdict granted a few days before the celebrations, arguing that the couple had already been married.

“There was no interdict at the time and by December she (Makhathini) was already his wife. We had a ceremony for utsiki, which we consider the true traditional marriage ceremony, in August already and Christmas eve was just a celebration (a ceremony known as uduli). So from where we are there is no contempt, but we’ll wait until they come to us,” said Mtirara, who added that Mandela was merely exercising his rights.

Mabunu-Mandela claims their civil marriage could not co-exist alongside a customary arrange-ment and that it would affect her claim to their estate as they are married in community of property.

Mabunu-Mandela’s lawyer Wesley Hayes said: “The basis on which we are bringing our application will become evident as soon as we file our papers, and the fact that a marriage has been admitted to by the Thembus does not bode well for Mr Mandela in the bigamy charges my client has laid against him.”

Dr Nokuzola Mndende – a former African indigenous religions lecturer at the University of Cape Town, and director of the Icamagu Institute – said: “In Africa, customary law should supersede Roman-Dutch law. If indeed it is so (that the law does not allow for a civil marriage to co-exist with customary marriage) then that law needs to be challenged.

“Ukudliswa amasi (the ceremony) is the true marriage certificate in Xhosa culture. If it’s traditional there’s no contempt. The courts cannot dictate to a man who is following his tradition,” Mndende said.

“What we would be interested in knowing is who the great wife is. It’s not automatic that the first wife is the great wife. It depends on whether she comes from royalty and also what process was followed.”

While he did not want to comment on internal family affairs, the provincial House of Traditional Leaders chairperson Nkosi Ngangomhlaba Matanzima – also a Thembu chief – said it was unheard of for a person to stop a wedding from taking place.

“What must be understood is that a marriage, in the African sense, is not about the two individuals – although there obviously needs to be consent – it’s about the coming together of two families.

“For us once negotiations are concluded, it is common cause that a union exists.

“Everyone is free to assert their rights and I’m in support of that, but African customs make no provisions for people other than the ones getting married to stop a wedding. It just does not happen,” he said.

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