Dashiki Dialogues: The illegitimate Mandela privilege

2013-07-17 10:00

Mandla Mandela’s latest troubles could be one of the most South African things to happen to him as a chieftain.

With the public mudslinging in the Mandela house, Mandla’s legitimacy as the rightful chief of Mvezo was questioned.

This spat was part of an attack launched by Mandla’s half-brother, Ndaba. A Mandela elder fuelled the feud when he told the media that Mandla’s

mother, Rayne “Nolusapho”, was a “township girl Makgatho refused to marry”, and gave birth to Mandla outside wedlock.

Makgatho is Mandla’s father and the ailing Madiba’s son. In his own statement to the press, Mandla rubbished these claims. At the heart of the dispute is that Xhosa culture dictates that an illegitimate child has no claim to chieftaincy, and it’s on this basis that calls were being made to strip Mandla of his title.

This news is salacious enough to whet anyone’s curiosity, especially the context of Madiba’s precarious condition as he lies in hospital.

But we may find there’s more to this story than has been reported or that meets the eye. But allow me to confine myself to just this part of the storm, the issue of legitimacy.

Geopolitics are shaped by illegitimate figures. The very shape of South Africa has been crafted by individuals dogged by the tag of “illegitimate leader”.

One can even go as far as to say that Mandla’s claim to power is a lot like Shaka Zulu’s, as he was the rejected son of Senzangakhona Zulu.

We know that shame of fathering Shaka (named after ishaka, the Zulu word for an intestinal parasite) eventually caused Senzangakhona to send Nandi, his shamed, would-be wife, and her son away.

During the chieftaincy of Senzangakhona, the Zulus were a small clan in the Mthethwa confederation, which was ruled by Dingizwayo. Imagine how different the geopolitics of our region would have been without that illegitimate child who became king of the Zulus.

And what about all those chieftaincies installed by the apartheid regime that continue to enjoy a cushy rule under the democratic dispensation?

Even Mandla and the Mandelas were just returned to the chieftaincy at Mvezo only after it had been occupied since the 1920s by an “illegitimate” figure.

Hell, all the settlers who took over this land – from Jan van Riebeeck to FW de Klerk – were illegitimate actors in a dialogue not unlike the dashiki thrown over Mandla today.

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