Ndileka Mandela: I’m still angry with Mandla

2014-02-23 10:00

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Ndileka Mandela has three clear memories of her father, Thembekile.

The first was when she was a little girl and he had bought her a cowboy outfit, complete with toy guns and a holster, then got her to pose for photographs.

The second was when she saw him in his coffin?–?she was four?–?and wondered why the man she remembered as light-skinned was “so dark”.

The last, and most painful, was when she was called last year to identify her father’s remains after her cousin, Mandla Mandela, had exhumed his bones, those of his [Mandla’s] father, Makgatho, and nine-month-old Makaziwe, the daughter of Nelson Mandela and his first wife, Evelyn Mase.

The exhumation led the family to court and the matter was eventually settled when the trio’s remains were returned to Qunu, where Nelson Mandela was buried in December.

Ndileka said this week after the launch of the Thembekile Mandela Foundation that she had forgiven Mandla for what he had done, but she was still angry.

“Grandad taught us to forgive, but it is something that still causes me a lot of pain,” she said in a marquee pitched on the lawns of Mandela’s Houghton home on Thursday.

Ndileka is Mandela’s eldest grandchild, the daughter of Thembekile and Thoko Mhlanga.

Mase was Thembekile’s mother. He was killed in a car crash in 1969 while his father was behind bars on Robben Island.

Ndileka said she did not know much about her father ­because he was usually mentioned only in passing.

She tried to ask her grandfather many times to share the stories of her father, but all he would say was: “Your father was a responsible man.”

Strangely, her fondest memories of her grandfather were from the time he spent on Robben Island and in prison ­outside Cape Town.

She said when she visited him, it was a chance to spend time alone with him rather than competing for his attention.

Ndileka said she started to understand Mandela’s refusal to talk about his son as she grew older because she could then understand how great his pain was.

It was because she did not want her father to be forgotten that she launched the foundation this week.


Although the family is still in mourning and a bigger, more public launch is planned when this period ends, February was the right time to announce its existence.

This is because Ndileka and her father were born in ­February and shared the star sign Pisces. Thembekile would have turned 67 today.

“This is a personal thing for me. Yes, we will collaborate with some of the [existing Nelson Mandela Foundation] projects, but this?...?I feel that Dad needs to step out of ­Grandad’s shadow and be his own man,” she said.

“Sons are supposed to be a continuity and carry on the legacy of their fathers, but my father is not here.”

She said it was up to her to carry the torch.

The foundation will focus on education, health and youth development.

It is also looking for sponsors at the moment and hopes to attract a few big companies, which will help carry out the charitable work.

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