Nelson Mandela's ex-wife Winnie wants Qunu home

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (L), Zinzi Mandela and Zoleka Mandela in Johannesburg on 17 June 2010 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Zinzi Mandela (C) is the daughter of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (L) and Nelson Mandela

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.

Mr Mandela's estate was provisionally valued at 46m rand ($4.3m; £2.5m) following his death in December.

The thrice-married Mr Mandela divorced Mrs Madikizela-Mandela in 1996.

The couple had two daughters, Zinzi and Zenani.

Mr 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.

'Mandela family unity'

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.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Mandela married Graca Machel on his 80th birthday in 1998
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption His death at the age of 95 caused an outpouring of grief

In his will, the ex-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 Mrs Madikizela-Mandela.

In the letter, seen by the BBC, the lawyers said Mrs 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.

Analysis: Farouk Chothia, BBC Africa

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mrs Madikizela-Mandela grew apart from Nelson Mandela during his many years in prison

Most South Africans will be hoping that differences over Nelson Mandela's home in Qunu will be amicably resolved. Otherwise, there could be a long drawn-out battle, sullying the reputation of everyone involved - not least that of Mrs Madikizela-Mandela.

She commands the respect of many South Africans for the sacrifices she made in the struggle against apartheid, despite the controversies that have swirled around her over the years. And she was given a prominent seat at her ex-husband's funeral, looking like a widow in mourning rather than a bitter divorcee.

Eight months later, her lawyers have sent a letter to the executors of Mr Mandela's will, requesting that house be given to her children. Does this mean the family truce has ended? Or should we believe her lawyers when they say they are not contesting the will - just "asserting the traditional and customary rights on what may be contentious in future".

"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 Mr Mandela's other children would be denied access to the property.

'Nothing for ex-wife'

"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 Mr 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.

Mrs 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 Mrs Machel was likely to waive her claims to the estate, although she was entitled to half of it.

Mr 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.

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