JOHANNESBURG – The ex-wife of South Africa’s first black President Nelson Mandela has demanded his village home for her children, potentially triggering the first legal dispute since his death.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s lawyers said she was asserting her “customary rights” by demanding the house.
Mandela’s estate was provisionally valued at 46m rand ($4.3m; £2.5m) following his death in December.
The thrice-married Mandela divorced Madikizela-Mandela in 1996.
The couple had two daughters, Zinzi and Zenani.
Mandela has one surviving child, Makaziwe, from his first marriage to the late Evelyn Mase.
He was married to Graca Machel, the wife of Mozambique’s late President Samora Machel, at the time of his death.
His large family – which includes grandchildren and great grandchildren – was hit by legal disputes over his wealth and burial site as he battled a recurring lung infection in the months leading to his death at the age of 95.
In his will, the former president said: “The Qunu property should be used by my family in perpetuity in order to preserve the unity of the Mandela family.”
The executor of the will, South Africa’s Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, has not yet commented on the letter sent to him by Mvuzo Notyesi Incorporated, the legal firm representing Madikizela-Mandela.
In the letter, seen by the BBC, the lawyers said Madikizela-Mandela obtained the house in Qunu while he was in jail for fighting white minority rule.
“The view we hold is that the aforesaid property belongs to the generation of Mr Nelson Mandela and Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as their common and parental home,” it said.
“It is only in this home that the children and grandchildren of Mrs Madikizela-Mandela can conduct their own customs and tradition and the house cannot be given to the sole custody of an individual nor can it be generally given to the custody of any person other than the children of Mrs Madikizela-Mandela and/or her grandchildren,” it added.
The letter said this did not mean that Mandela’s other children would be denied access to the property.
“However, control and supervision of the property should be properly determined according to custom and tradition,” the lawyers said.
There was an outpouring of grief across the world following Mandela’s death at the age of 95.
He was revered for battling against apartheid in South Africa and had spent 27 years in jail before being released in 1990 and becoming the country’s first democratically elected president in 1994.
Madikizela-Mandela was prominent at services to honour the former president after his death.
He did not leave anything for her in his will, which was unveiled in February.
At the time, executors said Machel was likely to waive her claims to the estate, although she was entitled to half of it.
Mandela also had a home in Houghton, an upmarket suburb in South Africa’s main city, Johannesburg.
His will said it should be used by the family of Makgatho, his deceased son from his marriage to Evelyn Mase.
“It is my wish that it should also serve as a place of gathering of the Mandela family in order to maintain its unity long after my death,” the former statesman wrote.