Remains of Mandela's children exhumed

A hearse escorted by police arrives at the home of Mandla Mandela, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, to collect remains in Mvezo, South Africa. Photo / AP
A hearse escorted by police arrives at the home of Mandla Mandela, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, to collect remains in Mvezo, South Africa. Photo / AP

The remains of three of Nelson Mandela's children have been exhumed to be returned to his childhood village following a bitter family feud over the ailing anti-apartheid hero's final resting place.

The public row comes as the 94-year-old former political prisoner, who became South Africa's first black president, lies critically ill in what is now his fourth week in hospital.

In dramatic scenes that unfolded in front of the world's media, a sheriff forced open the gates to the estate of Mandela's grandson Mandla with a pickaxe to allow three hearses to enter the property, where the disputed remains were moved in 2011, allegedly without the family's consent.

It came hours after a court in the nearby city of Mthatha ordered Mandla, 39, to immediately move the graves back to Qunu about 30 kilometres away, where Mandela grew up. Judge Lusindiso Pakade described the grandson's actions as "scandalous".

Mandela has expressed his wish to be buried at his rural homestead at Qunu, and his daughters want to have the children's remains returned so they can be buried together.

More than a dozen relatives of the revered leader, including his wife Graca Machel, two of his daughters and several grandchildren, took Mandla to court over the dispute.

According to court documents submitted by the family on June 28 to support their case, Mandela is in a "perilous" condition on life support, local media reported.

Political analysts said that rivalry over control of the Mandela legacy could be behind the court tussle.

The family is also seeking criminal charges of grave tampering against Mandla.

Previously the grandson has argued that Mandela should be buried at his birthplace Mvezo, where Mandla holds court as clan chief.

The disputed remains are of Mandela's eldest son Thembekile, who died in 1969, his nine-month-old infant Makaziwe, who died in 1948, and Mandla's own father Makgatho, who died in 2005.

- AFP

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