Mandela children exhumed to be moved to his childhood village
Sheriff forces gates open to allow hearses to take remains from grandson's estate after court order
The remains of three of Nelson Mandela's children have been exhumed to be returned to his childhood village following a bitter family feud over the ailing anti-apartheid hero's final resting place.
The row comes as the 94-year-old former political prisoner, who became South Africa's first black president, lies critically ill for the fourth week in hospital.
In dramatic scenes that unfolded on Wednesday in front of the world's media, a sheriff forced open the gates to the estate of Mandela's grandson Mandla with a pickaxe to allow three hearses to enter the property, where the disputed remains were moved in 2011, allegedly without the family's consent.
It came hours after a court in the nearby city of Mthatha ordered Mandla, 39, to immediately move the graves back to Qunu, about 30 kilometres away, where Mandela grew up and where he said he wanted to be buried. The judge described the grandson's actions as "scandalous".
Mandla's decision to move the remains were apparently linked to his efforts to have Mandela buried in Mvezo, where Mandla is a village chief. He has built a number of Mandela-related tourist attractions in Mvezo.
"The exhumation has been concluded now. The remains are being transported to the mortuary in Mthatha [before reburial]," said police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Mzukisi Fatyela.
Mandela has expressed his wish to be buried at his rural homestead at Qunu, and his daughters want to have the children's remains returned so they can be buried together.
More than a dozen relatives of the revered leader, including his wife Graca Machel, two of his daughters and several grandchildren, took Mandla to court over the dispute.
According to court documents submitted by the family on June 28 to support their case, Mandela is in a "perilous" condition on life support, local media reported.
"The anticipation of his impending death is based on real and substantial grounds. The applicants are desirous of burying their father and committing him to the earth in which his descendants' remains lie," according to court papers quoted by the Mail & Guardian and other media.
Analysts said rivalry over control of the Mandela legacy could be behind the court tussle.