Though her desire to be buried in Qunu may never be fulfilled, she may have at least one final wish come true after she obtained royal backing for her fight to inherit Nelson Mandela’s homestead in Qunu in the Eastern Cape before her death.
The struggle icon is set to continue her fight from beyond the grave for the home she shared with Nelson Mandela, in a case she wanted to use to end the plight of widows in rural areas.
According to her lawyer, Mvuzo Notyesi, the 81-year-old politician, who died on Monday, filed papers at the Constitutional Court in January, challenging a Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ruling which upheld the dismissal of Madikizela-Mandela’s claim to Mandela’s famous home in Qunu.
Notyesi, Madikizela-Mandela’s close friend and attorney, said the matter was part of the legacy she wanted to leave – because she wanted to make a point about how women are treated by the law in cases of divorce.
“What she wanted to advance was to highlight the plight of women in relation to property ownership in rural traditional areas, as well as to end the oppression of women broadly when it comes to inheritance under customary law,” said Notyesi.
“She [wanted] that law to be settled. It was never about her, personally. She wanted to settle the legal position when it comes to customary law and the inheritance of women under tribal practices and marriages.”
Madikizela-Mandela and Nelson Mandela divorced in 1996, citing irreconcilable differences. But by customary law, what rights she had following this were still under debate.
Jailed king of the Thembu in the Eastern Cape, Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, threw his weight behind Madikizela-Mandela and expressed his opinion on the matter of her status in the Mandela family.
His spokesperson Dumisani Mgudlwa said: “The opinion of the king is that Winnie is a wife in the Dlomo clan of abaThembu and his wish is that she be buried here in Qunu.
“But it will depend on the opinion of her children and immediate family. The royal family will be attending the memorial in Johannesburg this Saturday.”
Mgudlwa added that customary law meant that Madikizela-Mandela still had rights as Mandela’s wife.
“Winnie is still the wife of Mandela, even if divorced [from] the husband civilly. But in customary law he didn’t break the marriage. That woman still has rights to that house.
“Her children also have rights to the house.”
The Madikizela family announced yesterday that their matriarch would be buried in Fourways, Johannesburg, to avoid controversy.
Notyesi said he was heartbroken over Madikizela-Mandela’s death and remembered her as an intelligent woman who was resolute in her convictions, but maintained a warm and loving demeanour to all who knew her.
“She was always true to herself and she would tell you exactly what she was thinking. As a lawyer, when she gave you an instruction, she would say it like she wanted it done immediately. ‘I want it done now,’ she would say to me. I enjoyed an association with her and I even used to call her Makhulu (granny) as her grandchildren used to.”