JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela’s eldest grandson Thursday ended his fight over where to bury the remains of the ailing former president’s three dead children, but the family’s messy and public feud grew more acrimonious.
At a news conference in the village of Mvezo in Eastern Cape Province, Mandla Mandela said he would not challenge a court ruling ordering the exhumation of the remains, which he had secretly taken to Mvezo two years ago, supposedly to ensure that his grandfather would be buried there. The 94-year-old anti-apartheid hero has said he wants to be buried next to his children, but in Qunu, the village where he grew up.
The remains of the three children were reburied Thursday at their original site in Qunu after forensic tests to determine the children’s identities and a ceremony that relatives and elders of Mandela’s clan attended.
“I was denied the right to be heard,” Mandla Mandela said. “I will not challenge this further; it will serve no purpose.”
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But he lashed out at his relatives, accusing them of seeking to claim Mandela’s legacy for ulterior motives. “This is the very family who has taken their own grandfather to court for his money,” Mandla Mandela said, referring to legal efforts by his aunts to take control of companies set up by Nelson Mandela to manage royalties from the sale of his artworks.
Mandela was hospitalized June 8 for a recurring lung infection, and South Africans have been praying for his recovery and gathering outside his hospital in the administrative capital, Pretoria.
Reports on his health have been confusing. South African President Jacob Zuma told the nation Thursday that Mandela remained in critical but stable condition.
But South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper said it had obtained a court affidavit — from the case brought by 16 Mandela relatives last week against Mandla Mandela — that described Nelson Mandela as in “perilous health” and “assisted in breathing by a life-support machine.”
“The anticipation of his impending death is based on real and substantial grounds,” the document read, according to the newspaper.
Yet Thursday, Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, said her husband is sometimes uncomfortable but has never been in pain while undergoing medical treatment.
Reports emerged late Thursday that said Mandela was in a “permanent vegetative state” and that his doctors have advised his family to turn off his life-support machine, according to a court document dated June 26 and obtained by the Agence-France Presse news agency. The legal filing in the Eastern Cape High Court was part of the case over the remains.
Mac Maharaj, a government spokesman, denied that Mandela was in a vegetative state.
Thursday’s reburial came after a high-court judge ruled against Mandla Mandela and ordered him to return the bodies to Qunu. But he didn’t comply with the order, forcing a sheriff to arrive at his homestead in Mvezo on Wednesday and break open a locked gate with a pickax. The sheriff, along with some of Mandela’s relatives, then entered the homestead to search for the graves. The bodies were exhumed and taken in a large black hearse to a mortuary.
Mlawu Tyatyeka, an expert on the Xhosa culture of Mandela’s family, said the court case over the graves was resolved because the family knows Mandela will soon die. “It’s not a case of wishing him to die. It’s a case of making sure that by the time he dies, his dying wish has been fulfilled,” he said. “We have a belief that should you ignore a dying wish, all bad will befall you.”
Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years during South Africa’s white-racist rule and was freed in 1990 before being elected president in all-race elections. He won the Nobel Peace Prize along with former President F.W. de Klerk in 1993.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.