with some of the former president’s grandchildren reminding his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela that their grandfather is the only “magnet” in the family. They also claim she is abusing Madiba’s name to try and swing the ANC leadership race, and is unnecessarily warping family ties in the process.
As the tensions unfold, it has also transpired that the ANC Youth League rowed into the saga on Tuesday, warning Ndileka Mandela that she was “breaking rank” by attending an ANC lecture in honour of Mandela, the event that appears to have fuelled the latest family spat. The so-called Mother of the Nation boycotted the lecture, which was delivered by President Jacob Zuma, and took issue with Ndileka for attending the event and speaking in the family’s name. Ndileka is Madiba’s first grandchild from his marriage to Evelyn, and the daughter of their first child, Thembi, who was killed in a car crash in 1969 while Madiba was in prison.
In a withering statement issued on her behalf, Winnie claimed Ndileka’s presence did not have the “endorsement by the family, as she stated” and that “the family reject (sic) her lies with contempt”. Relations between Winnie’s and Evelyn’s sides of the family have at best been cordial over the years, but mostly terse. The past week’s exchange of anger was unprecedented.
It also came just days before the icon’s 94th birthday and family friends see it as a replay of his 90th, when relations had soured to the extent that Madikizela-Mandela and her family refused to attend. However, Winnie is scheduled to travel to the Eastern Cape on Wednesday for Madiba’s birthday where she will face the family and Ndileka for the first time since the row started. “Any suggestion that I was lying is not deserving of comment,” Ndileka told the Sunday Independent on Friday evening.
“When we talk about family endorsements and family opinions, we must be clear who we are speaking about.” In her defence, her cousin, Mandla Mandela, who is also the chief of the Traditional Council in Madiba’s birthplace of Mvezo, and like her drawn from Evelyn’s side of the family, says he has no problem with Ndileka or any member of the family speaking in the Mandela name. “My grandfather is the magnet of this family and through him we are all Mandelas.
“I respect each member of my family and I believe we must respect one another in return.”
Graça Machel, who was also present on Tuesday, appeared undeterred by Ndileka’s presence. In addition to Machel, the ANC had invited the “four senior members” of the Mandela family, which includes Madikizela-Mandela, her two daughters Zenani and Zindzi, as well as Makaziwe, Madiba’s only surviving child from his marriage to Evelyn. “Aunt Maki (Makaziwe) couldn’t make it and she asked me to attend in her place,” Ndileka explained. “I believe it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets. I spoke about granddad’s legacy and as his granddaughter I have a right to do that. They cannot take that away from me. That some people decided not to attend, for whatever reason, is not a good enough reason for the rest of us not to go or to be later subjected to this kind of treatment.”
On the morning of the lecture, Madikizela-Mandela sent a harsh e-mail to the ANC expressing her general unhappiness at the “shabby” way in which she, her family and “Tata” were being treated by the ruling party. The e-mail was leaked to several newsrooms, well ahead of the 5pm lecture.
At around noon, Ndileka received a call from a member of the ANC Youth League, who generally has been supportive of “Mama Winnie” as she is one of them, telling her Ndileka was “breaking rank” by proceeding with her plans. “I ignored the warning as I am not part of any rank or faction,” Ndileka said. “This was an event to honour the legacy of granddad and I didn’t want to be drawn into party politics, one way or the other, then or now.”
Mandla declined to comment on the contents of Madikizela-Mandela’s e-mail as he had not yet seen it. “Until I am consulted by those who wrote it or who feel aggrieved, if that is the case, I do not want to speculate. If there are issues that need to be discussed, we must call a family meeting. But if these are issues that are played out in public, then that is outside my space.”
- Sunday Independent