SOUTH AFRICA – A raging war has broken out in Nelson Mandela’s family. Its members are fighting over his estate and are moving to kick out his widow, Graça Machel, from the house she shared with her late husband.
The past six months have been a nightmare for Machel as the world’s beloved statesman lay dying. She has endured rejection and abuse from some members of the sprawling Mandela dynasty. Six sources inside and outside the Mandela household have told City Press that:
• Machel was told by members of the Mandela family that she should leave the Houghton home as soon as Madiba died;
• There was a massive row in the weeks before his death between Machel and grandson Ndaba in which household members had to intervene;
• Mandela’s eldest daughter, Makaziwe, often refuses to speak to Machel; and
• Makaziwe has verbally abused staff and repeatedly insisted she alone will determine how to divide the spoils of Mandela’s estate.
Attempts to obtain any comment from the family were unsuccessful. Voice, text and Facebook messages, as well as emails, went unanswered as were questions sent to Makaziwe and Ndaba Mandela through their lawyer on Friday.
Machel’s personal assistant said the widow could not comment because she was in mourning.
The feuding and tension is over two issues – control over the Mandela legacy and control over his money.
Last weekend’s funeral saw all of this coming to the fore despite a more contained and unified face to the public.
Sources in the Mandela household and the family, as well as family friends, say the Mandelas have never really accepted Machel. She is often rejected, excluded and often simply ignored.
But simmering hostilities erupted into bitter feuding when, earlier this year, grandson Ndaba Mandela, who lives in the Houghton home, had a raging row with Machel. He allegedly accused her of being an opportunist and of stealing his grandfather’s money.
At one point, household sources told City Press “he even tried to attack her physically but was restrained from doing so after the intervention of household staff”.
Another close family friend said: “I don’t know where they get the idea that there is all this money. Trusts were set up and each member was taken care of. Other than that, there are no hidden sums of money tucked away.”
As one staff member said: “They all hate Graa and believe there is a lot more money than there really is and that she is hiding it.
“Mandela looked after every child and grandchild but they seem to think there is a lot more money and want to get their hands on it.”
In fact, there was not enough money and they did not even have enough to pay the bills.
“Previously, there was always some benefactor who would come to the rescue. But then Mandela got sick and the funds started drying up, ”said the staff member.
Another family member said the suspicion remains “that Graa has spent all the money”.
However, Machel, like other family members, had been taken care of by Mandela but also has her own income and a separately funded charity foundation.
Before Mandela fell ill, she was told by some of his family members that she “should watch out” as “she would be kicked out of the Houghton house as soon as Tata died”.
Machel has already bought another home in Bryanston and is expected to move in once the mourning period for Mandela is over. She spent the week after the funeral at Mandela’s Qunu residence and only returned to Houghton this weekend.
However, it’s unlikely that Machel found much peace in Qunu. Her eldest stepchild, Makaziwe Mandela, flew there after the memorial service at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium and reduced staff to tears as she “stomped around the place, barking orders”.
A family friend who visited the house immediately after Mandela died, said Makaziwe was already throwing her weight around insisting that “she would determine who would get which Mandela house”.
Staff and family members said that before her father was discharged from the Pretoria Heart Hospital, Makaziwe insisted on a massive renovation of the Houghton home’s kitchen. At family gatherings during this period, she refused to spend her own money and insisted that the Mandela household account be used to pay for all expenses.
However, staff say that Makaziwe, the other children and grandchildren barely visited Mandela when he was in Qunu. A close family member said: “They couldn’t care less about him. They just dumped him in the care of staff and Graa for months on end.”
Another added: “Maki hardly ever went to visit him so nobody can understand what’s going on with her and why she is suddenly all over this.”
These revelations follow eight months of working on the story, during which at least 22 different people have been interviewed including staff members, family, family friends and ANC officials.
In the coming weeks, attention will turn to Mandela’s will. Attempts to gain control of his trust by daughters Zenani and Makaziwe earlier this year failed.
The pair tried to sue for the removal of George Bizos, Tokyo Sexwale, Bally Chuene and Eastern Cape Judge President Themba Sangoni as directors of two companies owned by the Mandela Trust. But they eventually withdrew their application and paid the costs of the proceedings.
The family was severely rebuked in a statement issued by law firm Norton Rose Fulbright on behalf of the directors.
“This ill-considered and misguided application had the effect of causing reputational harm not only to the respondents as directors and trustees but also to the trust and the image of the founder, Mr Nelson Mandela, himself.”
The battle for the Mandela inheritance has not yet begun.
Said one family friend:“This environment is toxic. It goes against everything that Mandela fought for.”