The pain of two loves

2013-12-15 14:00

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Last night, the two loves of former President Nelson Mandela’s life sat on mattresses at his house in Qunu, mourning Madiba’s passing together.

Wearing black skirts, blouses and iqhiya emnyama (head coverings), Graça Machel and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who affectionately call each other Big Sister and Little Sister, spent the night in the same room, each on their own mattress, united in their grief.

The past 10 days have been enormously difficult for Machel as she has battled under the strain of holding the Mandela family together, insiders say.

This week, TV footage has shown her looking exhausted and grieving.

But when she was presented with the ANC flag, which had been draped over Mandela’s coffin at Air Force Base Waterkloof yesterday, she could not hold back the tears.

Yesterday afternoon, as the SA Air Force’s Hercules C-130 carrying Mandela’s body touched down at Mthatha Airport, Madikizela-Mandela held a devastated Machel in a comforting embrace.

And on Tuesday’s memorial service at FNB Stadium in Joburg, Madikizela-Mandela greeted Machel on stage with a warm kiss and a hug.

Although Machel has been acknowledged first at memorial events this week and was the first to view her husband’s body as it lay in state, abaThembu traditions dictate that both she and Madikizela-Mandela play equal roles at his funeral.

Senior abaThembu chief and Madiba’s clan nephew, Mfundo Mtirara, said: “In our culture, if the divorced wife has not remarried by the time the husband dies, she is still regarded as the wife.

“Even if it can be 10 years after the divorce, she will come back and mourn her husband,” he said, adding that every decision about the funeral arrangements would have been made in consultation with them.

But the Mandelas are a complex family and the months leading up to the former president’s death have not been easy.

This week, the family presented a dignified front, thanking the nation for their outpouring of love and support.

Relations between Madikizela-Mandela and Machel appeared far from the days when the former raged against her ex-husband’s new wife, dismissing her as “that concubine”.

Still, there have been occasional sharp words exchanged between them behind closed doors, inside Mandela’s Pretoria hospital ward and at home in Houghton over the past six months.

Machel has had to tread a very difficult line between caring for Mandela and ensuring that every family member received time with him.

Sources inside the family have said that as recently as the day before his death they quarrelled – Madikizela-Mandela apparently furious that Machel had not told her first that Madiba was fading fast.

When Machel realised that Mandela would not make it through the week, she began frantically summoning the family.

She contacted his youngest daughter, Zindzi, to say that he was fading fast and advise that she should perhaps delay her trip to London for the royal premier of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom.

Madikizela-Mandela was not happy that she wasn’t informed first and an unpleasant showdown ensued.

But they managed to patch things up the day Mandela died.

Members of the household say that Machel “has been under terrible strain”.

Her support comes from her children, in particular her daughter Josina.

In an interview with British TV network ITV on Friday, Madikizela-Mandela spoke of Madiba’s final hours when she sat by his bedside watching his heart rate and blood pressure slow.

“And then he drew his last breath and just rested.

“And at that moment Graça came in followed by doctors?... She looked alarmed and, of course, I was?…?I was just brushing him. And I moved from the right side where I had been standing and I went around the bed to give her a chance. He was gone.”

Mandela’s eldest surviving child, daughter Makaziwe from his first wife Evelyn Mase, has taken control of funeral arrangements in her role as umafungwashe, or eldest daughter who provides guidance.

But it has not all gone smoothly.

There were tensions as members of both Machel’s and Madikizela-Mandela’s family were left off the official list of invited guests.

Also off the list was Dali Tambo, the son of late ANC leader Oliver Tambo, who was Madiba’s close friend.

Eventually, the list issue was resolved but not without heated arguments and external mediation, members of the household say.

In an interview with SABC2 on Friday night, Makaziwe Mandela hinted that the family was overcoming their divisions.

“I have to try and bring the family together, we might have our differences [and] difficulties. But, in essence?... one has to swallow one’s pride and say that Tata talks about [the] issue of forgiveness. Forgiveness is?...?very difficult,” she said.

“And so that’s the spirit I have to try and cultivate in this family and to say during this period we have to hold each other’s hands and?...?remind ourselves that?...?we have to unite and be able to forgive each other. If we don’t do that we can’t really say we are going to carry this legacy forward.”

Mandela’s long-time friend George Bizos said yesterday that his death had united the family.

“Every one of them expressed regret for the differences that there may have been among them.

I hear all of them saying that his passing is a good opportunity for them to shake hands with one another [and] be a united family in honour

of the memory of their father, grandfather and even great-grandfather,” he said, adding that he was very pleased with how the Mandelas had behaved.

Bantu Holomisa, who has overseen the funeral arrangements, said he had not seen any disunity among them.

“They are happy about the way things are going in terms of preparations. They all want to give Tata a dignified send off,” he said. – Additional reporting by Sabelo Ndlangisa

Mandela’s descendants

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