Fam­ily row closes Man­dela gravesite

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - HENRIËTTE GELDEN­HUYS

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 hen­ri­ette.gelden­huys@inl.co.za


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.

The Blue Man Group make an ap­pear­ance at a shop­ping mall in Shang­hai, China on Thurs­day. They will per­form in Cape Town from March 21 to 26.

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