— South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela’s legacy is one of forgiveness and reconciliation, as the leader who urged that the people of his fractured nation set aside their differences. But, in recent days, the Mandela clan has been engaging in very public spats over several issues.
Nelson Mandela won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end apartheid and reconcile South Africans.
But as the anti-apartheid icon remains in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital, his family has in recent days shown that they are anything but peaceful and united.
Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, held an impromptu press conference in Soweto on Friday, during which she chastised the press for being overly nosy about Mandela’s health.
Over the weekend, Madikizela-Mandela lashed out at the ruling African National Congress, which claims Mandela as their leader emeritus. That escalated into a public spat between her and the ANC.
This is happening against the backdrop of two recent legal battles involving the Mandela family, including a Monday court hearing in which at least 17 family members are battling over where clan members’ remains should be interred.
On Monday, grandson Mandla Mandela appeared in court after 16 family members challenged his 2011 decision to move the remains of three of Mandela’s children to Mvezo, the town where Mandela was born and where Mandla Mandela is the chief.
The graves had previously been in Qunu, the nearby town where Mandela spent much of his childhood and where he settled in his retirement. The challenging family members want them moved back.
Mandla Mandela did not answer repeated calls seeking comment.
These clashes seem to have put the nation in the strange position of defusing the heated rhetoric among this warring clan -- and reminding them of their common goal. Here’s presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj.
“I think we need to bring down the tone and help them to live within their own views and their own understanding, as well as to guard the privacy and the dignity of the moment,” Maharaj said.
Reports of family feuding have gripped the nation because South Africans seem to regard Mandela as a member of their own family. Many South Africans refer to Mandela as “Tata” -- father -- or by his clan name, Madiba, which is a sign of affection and respect.
So when Winnie Madikizela-Mandela this weekend accused the ruling ANC of exploiting Mandela in April by airing footage of the frail, aging icon, the ANC fired back much like an indignant relative.
“The remarks that have been made by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela are indeed unfortunate," party spokeswoman Khusela Sangoni-Khawe responded. "We regard them at the ANC as extremely regrettable. And we think that they would have missed, in essence, what the ANC was trying to share with the people of South Africa and the world. So we have said that we are not going to be responding further to these issues as we think that all of us should rally behind Tata Mandela while he is in hospital at this time.”
Local elders have chimed in, telling local media that they believe Mandela’s continued illness has been caused by a “curse” put on the family by the unhappy dead ancestors.
Sangoni-Khawe, the spokeswoman for the ANC, urged South Africans to focus on more important issues.
“The issues that surround I think what is happening with his family and the discussions around reburial, I think they should not be a focus point at this time," Sangoni-Khawe said. "All of us should be looking at ensuring that Tata recovers, he gets out of hospital and he is reunited with his family, and hopefully, able to assist them in resolving the challenges they face at this time.”
But it is clear that the Mandela family will remain in the limelight even as their patriarch’s health diminishes.
Perhaps the family’s complicated relationship with publicity is best summed up by one of Mandela’s granddaughters.
Swati Dlamini appealed to the world to “give us the privacy to deal” with her grandfather’s failing health. She said that on an episode of a reality show in which she stars, called “Being Mandela.”
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, holds a candle during a prayer service for the ailing Mandela at a church in Johannesburg, July 5, 2013.
Ndaba Mandela (R), one of former South African President Nelson Mandela's grandsons, and an unidentified companion leave the Mediclinic Heart Hospital, where the former president is being treated, in Pretoria, July 5, 2013.
Well-wishers pray in support of ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela in front of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where he is being treated in Pretoria, July 5, 2013.
Daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, leaves after visiting the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, July 5, 2013.
Well-wishers post messages outside the hospital where ailing former President Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, July 5, 2013.
A well-wisher weeps as he pays his respects outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital, where ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, July 1, 2013.
Boys hold a candle as they pay their respects outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital, where ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, July 1, 2013.
Men stand next to a banner covered with portraits of Nelson Mandela to a wall outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, June 28, 2013.
A well-wisher pays respect to ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, June 27, 2013.
Granddaughters Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Tukwini Mandela are surrounded by the media outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, June 27, 2013.
Children release 95 white balloons to mark the upcoming birthday of ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, June 27, 2013.