Mandela family’s uneasy peace

2014-11-30 15:00

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A quiet dignity has fallen over the house of the royal family

When Graça Machel visits Qunu, she takes flowers to put on the grave of the man she still charmingly refers to as her “boyfriend”.

Even though Nelson Mandela’s second wife has laid claim to the property in the Eastern Cape village, Machel still travels there occasionally to remember him.

In the year since her husband died, Machel has granted just a handful of interviews to officially mark the end of her mourning period. She has largely kept to herself, travelling between South Africa and Mozambique, trying desperately, friends say, to limit her public profile.

Confidantes say she has been in considerable pain this year, utterly bereft, and that moving on with her life has been tremendously difficult.

She has also buried herself in her work with her Graça Machel Trust, which deals with education, and her role in the group of retired senior world leaders, The Elders, for which she has led a campaign against child marriage.

The little spare time she has is shared with close family members, including a new grandson who was born during the long months of Mandela’s illness.

Shortly after Madiba’s death she moved out of their shared home in Houghton and into another in Bryanston, which she had built for when she stays in South Africa.

If last year was characterised by unseemly spats and ugly court battles between the Mandela children and grandchildren, this year has seen a quieter and more dignified family, many of whom have retreated from the public eye.

A close friend of the family, who in previous years played a major role in mediating family disputes, said tensions have definitely simmered down since Madiba’s death.

“Before the reading of the will, it was clear there were vested interests, but since everything was allocated, I haven’t been called to assist in any problems,” he said.

The close friend told City Press the family has displayed a growing rapprochement towards Machel. Last year, she was subjected to verbal abuse by some Mandela family members, and told that she would be evicted from Madiba’s house in Houghton when her husband passed away.

“They have been trying to recover lost ground,” the friend said.

“They know they behaved very badly over the months that Mandela was dying, and they know they did a lot of damage to Madiba’s legacy, even if they don’t admit that publicly.”

He said the family has since realised “silence is the golden rule”, and it is best to deal with dirty laundry behind closed doors.

At the centre of the tensions last year were Mandela’s oldest grandson, Mandla Mandela, who was at loggerheads with his aunt Makaziwe. Last July, Makaziwe led a court application accusing her nephew of stealing the bodies of three of Mandela’s children and moving them from Qunu to Mvezo, where he is chief.

Makaziwe won the case, forcing Mandla to return the bodies. It culminated in an embarrassing press conference in which Mandla accused his aunt of failing in her role as family unifier, saying “all she’s had to do is sow divisions and destruction”.

Asked this week if the family had achieved peace, Mandla Mandela said: “I don’t know what you are alluding to. I don’t know of any of these disruptions you are talking about. Beyond the press conference, I have dealt with all that I need to deal with – I don’t know of any disruptions. My grandfather left Qunu to the family. I live there and I live in Mvezo.”

At the funeral last December, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela comforted a visibly devastated Machel and stood by her at his graveside. But it was short-lived.

Last month, Madikizela-Mandela went to the Mthatha High Court in a bid to gain control of the Qunu property which Mandela left in his will to the Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Family Trust. The trust oversees the property on Machel’s behalf.

In court papers, Madikizela-Mandela said her late ex-husband acted “irregularly and unlawfully” when he registered the land in his name, and that abaThembu king Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo gave her the land when Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island.

Those who know her well say that she fervently believes she suffered just as much as Mandela did during the struggle against apartheid and that she has the first right to Mandela’s land and estate.

“She has never really got over the humiliation of the divorce and the fact that Mandela was the one lauded around the world while she suffered so terribly,” said a source close to the family.

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