JOHANNESBURG - Nelson Mandela's estate is finally being settled nearly three years after his death, as his executors in Johannesburg handed out inheritance checks on Friday.
However, the saga around the $3 million estate of South Africa’s first democratic president is far from over.
The happy and grateful heirs who collected their checks -- among them, a former driver, a gardener, and a housekeeper -- made it appear that Mandela’s estate is being amicably disbursed.
Mandela also left money to his widow, all of his surviving children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, though few of those high-profile family members attended the event. Most of their funds are being electronically distributed, executors said.
Main executor Dikgang Moseneke disputed media reports that the will had caused family squabbles.
“Despite all the speculations we’ve found and seen so often in the media, there was no fight within the family,” he said. “The family was united, they gave us support, and something that was totally befitting the stature of Mr. Mandela and the love they owed to him, and the love he had for all of the family.”
The retired deputy Chief Justice may be technically correct. That’s because the Mandela relative who is challenging executors has been effectively excluded since his death, both from his will, and -- to some extent -- from his family.
Mandela, who is so widely admired for urging forgiveness after spending most of his life fighting South Africa’s racist apartheid regime, bequeathed nothing to his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
The pair remained married throughout Mandela’s 27-year prison term for his opposition to apartheid. They divorced in 1996, during Mandela’s term as South Africa’s first black president, but maintained close contact until his death in December, 2013.
Winnie vs Graca
Madikizela-Mandela stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, through most of his funeral proceedings, including his family-only burial ceremony in his rural hometown of Qunu.
Then, in February, Madikizela-Mandela staked a claim in court for Mandela's modest Qunu home, which he had left to the family trust. In her claim, she said that the tribal authority gave her the property while her husband was in prison -- and, in an interesting twist, claimed she was entitled to the home because she was still married to him.
Although a judge granted a formal divorce -- after a messy court case in which Nelson Mandela accused his wife of infidelity -- the former Mrs. Mandela said that divorce only applied to their civil union. In her court claim, she said the couple’s 1958 marriage, done under customary law, had never been dissolved.
The court dismissed her claim in April, but Moseneke said executors are still trying to legally resolve the dispute.
Neither Madikizela-Mandela nor Graca Machel was present at the check distribution Friday.