South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela remains in a critical condition in the hospital as a family feud over his burial site intensifies and the ruling party defends itself against claims it exploited him.
Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, said in a statement yesterday he will contest a court application brought against him by some family members, without disclosing details of the case. The Johannesburg-based City Press reported yesterday that the application relates to the re-burial of three of Mandela’s children in his home village of Qunu in Eastern Cape province. About two years ago, Mandla had the remains moved to Mvezo village, where he is the tribal chief, the newspaper said. Mandela had told his staff he wanted to be buried in Qunu, City Press said.
The 94-year-old former leader has been in a Pretoria hospital since June 8 to receive treatment for a recurring lung infection. Doctors downgraded his condition to critical on June 23. He remains “critical but stable,” President Jacob Zuma’s office said in a statement on its website today.
Mandela, who turns 95 this month, took office as head of Africa’s largest economy after the African National Congress won the country’s first multiracial elections in 1994. He had spent 27 years in jail for opposing white-minority rule and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Mandela has three surviving children: Makaziwe, whom he had with his first wife, Evelyn, and two daughters, Zindzi and Zenani, from his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Mandla is the child of Mandela’s son, Makgatho, who died in 2005 from an AIDS-related illness.
The ANC has come under attack from Madikizela-Mandela for publishing a photo of the elderly former leader in April after a visit by party officials, including Zuma. It was “insensitive” and “compromised the family’s dignity,” she told London-based ITV News in an interview broadcast yesterday.
Madikizela-Mandela’s concerns weren’t raised with the ANC and her comments are “regrettable,” the party said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. The ANC wants to continue supporting Mandela and his family and “we have to demonstrate active interest in the life of President Mandela, who remains our leader and our icon,” it said.
ANC officials will hold a prayer service for Mandela at the party’s headquarters in Johannesburg tomorrow, the organization said in a statement today.
Hundreds of South Africans, many of them children, have been flocking to the hospital, leaving cards, balloons, flowers and messages of support for the country’s first black president.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who was on his first official visit to South Africa, yesterday urged African leaders to follow Mandela’s example as a path to international respect and economic growth. Obama didn’t visit Mandela in the hospital, though met with some family members in Johannesburg and spoke with Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, over the phone.
Obama yesterday toured Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island, where the anti-apartheid activist was held for 18 years. Obama and his wife, Michelle, left a message in the guest book that said “the world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit.”