Nelson Mandela’s village chief says if Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is fighting for his Qunu home because she wants control of the former president’s grave, she is mistaken.
His ex-wife has no say over the land on which he is buried, she says.
Qunu chief Nkosikazi Nokwanele Balizulu, who lives across the N2 highway from the late Madiba’s home, says “a small piece of the land” that forms part of Mandela’s property was given to Madikizela-Mandela while Mandela was still in prison, but he was not buried on it.
Balizulu is listed in papers before the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) as one of those who support Madikizela-Mandela’s claim to the property that Mandela bequeathed to the Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Family Trust for the use of his widow, Graca Machel, and the rest of the Mandela family.
But in an exclusive interview with City Press this week, Balizulu presented a more neutral position in the battle for Qunu.
The matter heads to court this week with a string of senior counsel, including celebrated advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, presenting arguments before a full bench of justices.
Balizulu said her late husband’s twin brother, Dalilanga, had demarcated a small piece of land under Madikizela-Mandela’s name “somewhere between 1988 or 1989”.
She recalled how Madikizela-Mandela arrived in the village in a helicopter when the site demarcation took place. On that land, she insists, lies the first structure built on the property – a replica of the house Mandela lived in at Victor Verster prison.
However, Balizulu said she later personally extended the site under Mandela’s name when she became regent chief in 1996, demarcating more land to the then president.
It is on this portion that Mandela’s main house, farm and grave are situated.
“This is why I am saying if mama Winnie is claiming the area where Tata’s grave is situated as well, then she is wrong because she has no claim to that piece of land whatsoever.
“I am the one who gave that land to uTata and I would be lying if I said she has any claim.
“And I know the land which was given to her originally by the brother of my late husband because I was here, and it does not include the area where uTata is buried or where his main house is built.
“That is the truth,” she said, pointing at Mandela’s property from her village spaza shop.
Last year, Madikizela-Mandela took her fight to the Mthatha High Court to seek a review and setting aside of a decision taken in 1997 by then land affairs minister, Derek Hanekom, that the property belonged to her former husband.
After the court dismissed the application and refused her leave to appeal, Madikizela-Mandela petitioned the SCA directly. It granted her leave to appeal.
In the case before the high court, the executors of the estate question why Madikizela-Mandela waited 17 years before lodging her application, a contention the court agreed with when dismissing her claim.
But in court papers before the SCA, Madikizela-Mandela argues that the finding of undue delay was “erroneous”.
In her heads of argument, Madikizela-Mandela – represented by Patric Mtshaulana SC, Kameshni Pillay SC and Nyoko Muvangua – argues that the high court erred and incorrectly applied the facts on two issues.
These are whether she was prevented from accessing the disputed land after her divorce from Mandela and whether she could have reasonably known at that time that the land had been given to Mandela.
But in their papers, the executors of Mandela’s estate – represented by Vincent Maleka SC and Ngcukaitobi – dispute Madikizela-Mandela’s version of events.
They say that, at a meeting, Qunu residents consented to the site’s donation to Madiba and that abaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo demarcated it in Balizulu’s presence.
They say they have the official documents to prove it.
Balizulu told City Press this week that she believed Mandela’s grave, which could be made accessible to the public next year, was the ultimate prize in this fight because it would attract tourists and “result in financial benefit for some”.
However, she recalled how she had asked Dalindyebo to step in when Qunu residents complained about her giving Madiba such a large tract of land.
“The king came and intervened in that situation and even demarcated a bigger area for uTata than the one I had earmarked,” she said.
She blamed the abaThembu elders for fuelling the dispute, saying they elevated the long-divorced Madikizela-Mandela’s status when Mandela died, recognising her, at least traditionally, as his wife.
She and Machel sat on the widow’s mattress and she was made to perform izila, an abaThembu mourning ritual for a grieving widow.
“When they did all of that they were saying to mama Winnie: ‘This was your husband.’ No wonder she sees the need to make these claims.
“These elders must take the blame because they are the ones who elevated the status of a wife who has been divorced.”
Balizulu said the issue had become so volatile and sensitive that Qunu residents had been bullied not to speak about the matter, but she would not say by whom.
In Qunu on Wednesday, villagers did not want to comment. The few who did, did not want their names mentioned.
Asked who they thought should be given the property, five out of six sided with Madikizela-Mandela.
They said they believed the site was under her name and that she was the elder wife.
One villager who sided with Mandela’s executors said Machel should have the house because she was married to Madiba when he died and he left the property to her.
Madikizela-Mandela’s lawyer, Mvuzo Notyesi, declined to comment.