Family row closes Mandela gravesite
FAMILY battles over the grave of Nelson Mandela have effectively shut the site for more than two years to thousands of people wanting to pay their respects at what should have become the country’s most popular heritage site.
Instead, bickering and bitterness have left it undeveloped, but well guarded to keep out visitors.
And although the family says plans for developing the site are now in the early stages, it will be at least another 18 months before these can be expected to be completed.
Anyone trying to visit the site in Qunu on Mandela Day on Monday will be left bitterly disappointed.
Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Board communications officer Oyanga Ngalika said although it was one of the province’s major attractions, “bickering, issues and internal arguments” had hampered progress.
The drama began even before Mandela’s death. Mandela’s eldest daughter Makaziwe, supported by his
wife Graça Machel, obtained a Mthatha High Court order compelling Mandela’s grandson Mandla to return the bones of two of Nelson Mandela’s relatives.
The rest of the family argued the former statesman was on life support and it was urgent he be buried in peace alongside their remains at the Qunu site.
Mandla had secretly removed the bones and reburied them at Mvezo, where he is the traditional chief.
The debate that raged about where Mandela should be buried was not confined to the Mandela family but also involved chiefs and leaders in the area.
Some thought he should be buried at Mvezo, where he was born, but others argued for Qunu, where Mandela lived until he was 9.
Still others suggested the Mandela family graveyard, about 500m from his burial site on the opposite side of the N2, where his father Mphakanyiswa and his mother Nosekeni were buried, should be chosen.
This week Daludumo Mtirara, spokesman for the abaThembu Royal House, confirmed the grave site was locked and guarded by security staff. He said no visitors were allowed and “no activities” would take place there on Monday.
On plans for the site, Mtirara said once the family made a final decision, they would inform the abaThembu king.
The Mandela family were the “core” decision- makers and the issue was considered “a private family matter”.
But he conceded “Mandela was also for the people of South Africa” and “maybe in time it would be good if the public is able to visit the site like any other site of our heroes”.
The Mandela family, the National Heritage Council and the government had to finalise plans for the site.
“I presume there are discussions in the background that will culminate in a decision to allow people to visit the gravesite to pay their respects to him,” said Mtirara.
Nokuzola Tetani, spokeswoman for the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha, where most of the festivities will take place on Monday, said thousands of visitors were interested in visiting Mandela’s grave.
As an alternative, she took them to the Mandela family gravesite on the opposite side of the N2.
She also took visitors to the Qunu branch of the Nelson Mandela museum, on a hill overlooking the Mandela burial site.
“As long as you don’t enter, you are allowed to view it from afar,” said Tetani,.
The museum had applied to Unesco to declare the site an international heritage site.
“International tour operators from around the world all want to go to the site.
“People are becoming more and more interested in the burial site,” Tetani said email@example.com
The closest visitors can get to Nelson Mandela’s gravesite in Qunu is to view it from a nearby hill. Bitter family battles mean the site is likely to be opened to the public only in about 18 months.
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