JOHANNESBURG – Members of Nelson Mandela’s family who this month won a court victory in a macabre burial case enjoyed free legal aid because they were deemed to be poor, media reports said Sunday.
The court, finding in favor of 16 members of Mandela’s family, ordered the anti-apartheid icon’s eldest grandson, Mandla, to return the remains of three of his children, having reburied them in 2011 without permission.
The Sunday Times reported that the group’s legal fees were paid by a law clinic based in Grahamstown in southeastern Eastern Cape province.
The Rhodes University Law Clinic, which is funded by the South African and foreign governments as well as donations, normally gives legal aid to poor people who live in the Grahamstown area, but made an exception for the Mandelas.
“A call was made to the management of the clinic requesting permission to take on the matter,” Rhodes University director Susan Smailes was quoted as saying.
She said the decision to offer assistance was taken after it was established that some of the applicants were “indigent”.
Mandla’s spokesman Freddy Pilusa scoffed at the idea, telling the Sunday Times: “We find their claim that some members of the Mandela family are indigent absurd.”
In fact, most of the applicants in the case, who included Mandela’s wife Graca Machel, daughters Makaziwe and Zenani and a host of grandchildren, are directors of companies and head businesses linked to the former president’s name.
Zenani Mandela is South Africa’s ambassador to Argentina.
Another consideration that prompted the law clinic’s decision was that “Mandla’s approach to deciding this family matter was at the expense of women’s voice in the family,” Smailes said.
The bitter family feud was sparked by Mandla’s unilateral decision in 2011 to exhume the remains of Mandela’s three dead children from the family graveyard in Qunu and rebury them in Mvezo, where he is a traditional chief.
The disputed remains were those of Mandla’s own father Magkatho, who died in 2005; Mandela’s eldest son Thembekile who died in 1969; and Makaziwe, a nine-month-old infant who died in 1948.
After the court ruling, the remains were swiftly exhumed from Mandla’s compound in Mvezo and transferred back to Qunu. The two villages are some 30 kilometers apart in the Eastern Cape province.