Police Break Cemetery Gates After Ruling In Mandela Feud

Earlier in the day, a judge in the Eastern Cape High Court in Mthatha, near the rural villages where Mr. Mandela was born and raised, ordered the grandson, Mandla Mandela, to return the bodies immediately from the small village of Mvezo, where Mr. Mandela was born, to the nearby village of Qunu, where he was raised and where he has said he wishes to be buried.
Mandla Mandela is not opposed to the bodies’ exhumation, his spokesman, Freddy Pelusa, said in a statement after the ruling, but pursued the case only because he thought he had not been treated properly by the court. Hearses arrived at the Mvezo site by midafternoon to transport the bodies and the police used a pickax to break through a gate surrounding the property to begin the exhumation. By late afternoon, police and health officials had unearthed the remains in three unmarked graves and taken them to a nearby mortuary to be prepared for the move to Qunu.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper said it had obtained an affidavit from the court case dated Friday in which the 16 Mandela family members who petitioned to have the bodies returned to Qunu said they had done so because Mr. Mandela, 94, a former South African president, was in “perilous health” and was “assisted in breathing by a life support machine.”
“The anticipation of his impending death is based on real and substantial grounds,” the affidavit said. “The applicants are desirous of burying their father and committing him to the earth in which his descendants’ remains lie.”
The affidavit, the paper reported, said the family believed that Mandla Mandela wanted the bodies to remain in Mvezo, his own home village, for financial gain, in the anticipation that Nelson Mandela would also be buried there.
The feud between Mandla Mandela and the other family members, led by Nelson Mandela’s eldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, has riveted the attention of South Africans as Mr. Mandela remains in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital, clinging to life.
The bodies to be exhumed are those of three of Nelson Mandela’s children: Mandla Mandela’s father, Makgatho Mandela, who died in 2005; his first daughter, also named Makaziwe, who died as an infant in 1948; and another son, Madiba Thembekile Mandela, who died in a traffic accident in 1969.
The court initially ordered Mandla Mandela on Friday to exhume the bodies, but he fought the order, leading to three more days of court proceedings this week. In her order Wednesday morning, Justice Lusindiso Pakade called Mandla Mandela’s actions “scandalous” and ordered the bodies exhumed within hours.
Mandla, who succeeded his grandfather as head of the Mvezo Traditional Council, issued a statement through his spokesman, Mr. Pelusa, saying that he did not oppose moving the bodies, but did not believe that he had received a fair hearing.
“He will therefore abide by the court decision while at the same time continuing to fight for his right to put on record his side of the story,” Mr. Pelusa said.
Mandla Mandela promised to answer any questions from reporters about the legal fight on Thursday.
He “has had a lot of allegations and dirt thrown in his direction by all sorts of individuals baying for a few minutes of fame and media attention at his expense,” Mr. Pelusa said.
The other family members, who include Nelson Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, were said to be pleased by the court ruling, but did not speak publicly about it.
“It will remain a private matter,” Makaziwe Mandela told a cluster of journalists on the courthouse steps, refusing to comment further. A lawyer for the family, Wesley Hayes, was a bit more forthcoming, according to local media reports. “We are delighted with the outcome,” he said.
The feud over the burial site erupted after a meeting of the entire family last week in Qunu as they prepared for Mr. Mandela’s funeral.
Family members said Mandla Mandela moved the bodies in 2011 from Qunu to Mvezo without their permission or knowledge.