JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The recent feud among family members of former South African President Nelson Mandela over the bodies of his three dead children was damaging enough to the famous name.
It has now emerged that a university law clinic provided free legal aid to family members who brought a court case against Mandela's grandson, Mandla, assistance that is intended for poor South Africans.
Fifteen members of South Africa's most famous family took Mandla Mandela to court last month to force the exhumation of family bones from the elder statesman's birthplace, Mvezo, to the village where he grew up, Qunu, in the Eastern Cape province.
The elder Mandela, who is in hospital with a recurring lung infection, has expressed a wish to be buried next to his children, leading critics to contend that the legal wrangling is about gaining control of future tourist revenue likely to flow from Mandela's memorial site.
Some of the family members who brought the court action were deemed to be indigents, according to a statement from Rhodes University, whose law clinic helped them win the case.
"Indigence is assessed on an individual basis and not a family or group basis," the statement said. Because a number of family members met the criteria, a decision was taken to represent all of them for free, it said.
It was a controversial decision, however, coming after a recent court ruling that the state wasn't obliged to provide legal aid to about 300 miners who survived police shootings during a mine protest last year.
"Some of the 15 Mandelas who pleaded indigence in order to claim legal aid to fund their case against Mandla Mandela own homes worth millions and drive flashy cars," said a report by Independent Online, a South African news site.
It quoted an investigation by member newspaper the Star that found that Mandela's eldest daughter, Makaziwe, owns a mansion in the upscale Hyde Park neighborhood of Johannesburg worth more than $1.36 million. Her daughter, Tukwini, also owns a substantial house, according to the report.
Makaziwe Mandela was recently at the center of another legal case seeking control of several trust funds containing money from the sale of Mandela-branded artworks. She and her daughter also sell wine under a label called the "House of Mandela."
The family has been criticized for other efforts to cash in on the Mandela name. There's the reality TV show "Being Mandela," which has its own Twitter feed and saw two of Mandela's granddaughters tweeting about his health. There is also a clothing label called Long Walk to Freedom, named after Mandela's autobiography.
Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza told the Star that the reasons offered by the Rhodes University Law Clinic for representing the Mandelas were "spurious and disingenuous.”
“You only have to look at the applicants. No one in their right minds can give them funding,” Ntsebeza said.