Lauded as one of the fiercest icons in the struggle against apartheid, the one battle Winnie Madikizela-Mandela could not see through to its end was reclaiming the land upon which the Qunu homestead of her former husband, Nelson Mandela, was built.
Madikizela-Mandela, who died after a prolonged illness on Monday, had been locked in a fierce legal battle to claim ownership of the land, which she claimed was allocated to her in 1989.
The land was donated to former president Mandela in November 1997, but in 2014, Madikizela-Mandela claimed she had only just discovered the property had been registered to her ex-husband.
Madikizela-Mandela approached the Mthatha High Court in the Eastern Cape in 2016 to decide on the ownership of the land, but her application was later dismissed.
Madikizela-Mandela’s lawyer, Mvuzo Notyesi, said she had maintained "that the property is rightfully hers", but Qunu chief Nkosikazi Nokwanele Balizulu, who lived opposite Mandela’s Qunu homestead, said "a small piece of the land" of the former president's property was given to Madikizela-Mandela.
Balizulu said this had happened while Mandela was still in prison.
Madikizela-Mandela took the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein in 2017, with her lawyer saying at the time that the matter had been judged on technicalities, and not on its merits.
Notyesi said, according to AbaThembu custom, the rights to the property should go to Madikizela-Mandela and her descendants, irrespective of whether she was divorced or still married.
Following the Supreme Court of Appeal’s (SCA) dismissal of Madikizela-Mandela’s application, the Chief of the Royal House of Mandela, Mandla Mandela, said the ruling honoured his late grandfather’s final wishes that the Qunu residence should be managed by the executors of his estate.
Difference of legal opinions
News24 reported in January, following the judgment by the SCA, that Mandela had bequeathed the property to the Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Family Trust, for the benefit of the Mandela family‚ including his third wife Graça Machel and her children, to whom he was married at the time of his death in 2013.
The SCA judgment said there had been differences in the legal opinions about who owned the property.
"There are conflicting opinions between the experts called by both parties as to the effect upon a customary marriage of a decree of divorce," Acting Judge President of the SCA Jeremiah Shongwe said at the time.
"The original modest dwelling, constructed on the property over the period 1993-1995, was built at a time when he and the appellant were separated from each other and hardly talking," Shongwe said.
"The mansion was erected after they were divorced and was used by himself and his new wife. The appellant must have been aware of such improvements and adopted a supine attitude towards her alleged claim.
"She provided no acceptable evidence that she contributed financially to the improvements on the property."
Shongwe said Madikizela-Mandela had waited "17 years, without an acceptable explanation", to institute review proceedings, and it had violated the common rule law of review applications.
Rubbing final salt into Madikizela-Mandela’s wounds, the court ordered her to pay the costs of the executors of the estate of Nelson Mandela.