Ex-wife challenges Nelson Mandela’s will, demands homestead

Nelson Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, right, comforts his widow Graca Machel, center, during the burial ceremony for the South African leader last December.
Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, right, comforts his widow Graca Machel, center, during the burial ceremony for the South African leader last December.
(Edmond Jiyane / AFP/Getty Images)

The late South African leader Nelson Mandela said in his will that he wanted his home in rural Qunu to be used to forever unite his family. But his kinsmen, who fought bitterly over his burial place and went to court over the bones of his children, aren’t easily united.

His former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, whom he divorced in 1996, is challenging Mandela’s will, demanding that the Qunu homestead and land should be hers, according to reports in South African newspapers Tuesday.

Mandela, who died in December, left Madikizela-Mandela out of his will, leaving his $4.3 million in property and belongings to his wife, Graca Machel, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, with small bequests to his staff and doctors. He left money to several educational institutions.


“The Qunu property should be used by my family in perpetuity to preserve the unity of the Mandela family,” his will said.

However, Madikizela-Mandela’s lawyers have written to the will’s executor, Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, issuing a challenge. One of the lawyers, Mvuyo Notyesi, said in the letter that her claim wasn’t an attack on the will, but an assertion of customary and traditional rights.

The letter said that under African traditional law the property was rightfully Madikizela-Mandela’s, even if she was divorced from Nelson Mandela. Tha lawyer added that the customs of Mandela’s aba-Thembu clan dictated that Madikizela-Mandela and her family should get the family home.

News about the letter was first published Tuesday in an Eastern Cape newspaper the Daily Dispatch and subsequently reported by other South African media. The letter was reportedly written two weeks ago.

“This position becomes applicable irrespective of whether the wife was divorced or not,” the letter said, according to South Africa’s City Press newspaper. “It is only in this home that the children and grandchildren of Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela can conduct their own customs and tradition.”

Machel waived her right to half of Mandela’s estate left to her in his will, instead taking ownership of four properties the couple owned in Mozambique, plus vehicles, jewelry given her during the marriage and money in various financial institutions.


At the time that Madikizela-Mandela was left out of the will, her daughter with Nelson Mandela, Zindzi, said her mother never expected any bequest from her former husband.

“Why would she expect to be maintained after his passing when she was never maintained during his lifetime?” Zindzi Mandela tweeted at the time.

After the will was read to the family in February, South Africa’s Mail and Guardian reported that Madikizela-Mandela wanted half of Mandela’s assets, worth about $2.1 million. Madikizela-Mandela’s claim to the Qunu property was supported by the controversial Aba-Thembu king, Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo.

In an unrelated development, South African President Jacob Zuma recently gave the king 30 days to prove why he should not be dethroned after complaints from the Aba-Thembu people.

Mandela’s property in Qunu had already been the subject of a bitterly fought court case.

Fifteen members of his family went to court last year in a successful effort to force the exhumation of family bones from Mandela’s birthplace, Mvezo, to Qunu, where he grew up. At the time, critics charged that family members were trying to gain control over future tourist revenue from his memorial site.

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