Former South African President Nelson Mandela beamed Monday as he watched his grandson reclaim a traditional leadership post that Mandela had renounced decades ago to become a lawyer and dedicate his life to fighting apartheid.
Mandla Mandela, 32, was draped in a lion skin, the symbol of royalty, and officially installed as head of the Mvezo Traditional Council by the king of the AbaThembu, Zwelibanzi Dalindyebo, one of six kings of the Xhosa people.
"This is about the returning of our dignity and the restoring of our history," said Dalindyebo, amid drumming and ululating from hundreds of well-wishers, including tribal royalty from across the country, most of them clad in brightly colored traditional dress and beaded headdresses.
It was the first time in nearly 70 years that a member of Mandela's family from the Madiba clan took up the mantle of traditional leadership. Mandla Mandela, who graduated from Rhodes University's political science program last week, now has the power to decide disputes and try certain criminal and civil cases.
"He is the link between the king, the ancestors and his people," said Patekile Holomisa, head of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa.
Mandla Mandela told reporters his 88-year-old grandfather had expressed concern about disappointing his king when he renounced his claim to the role, but today was pleased "to see his father's chieftaincy restored in his lifetime."
Nelson Mandela's father, Henry, had been deposed in the early 1900s after he defied a summons from a local magistrate.
The anti-apartheid icon has been cutting back on his public role in recent years. Monday, dressed in a black and white animal print shirt, he walked with difficulty up the stairs but otherwise looked in good health and in radiant spirits as he delivered a short speech in Xhosa in a firm voice. He smiled broadly and waved to the crowd.
In a statement before the ceremony, Mandla Mandela said he looked forward to his office with "respect, pride and passion."
Mandla Mandela's father Makgatho, Nelson Mandela's last surviving son, died in 2005 of AIDS-related complications.
His mother, Rayne Mandela-Perry, said her late husband would have been proud to see his son carry on the family legacy.
"This is really Nelson's position but because of his advanced age it was decided that the honor would be bestowed on his successor," Holomisa said.
The ceremony, known as ubeko or anointment, took place amid gale force winds and swirling dust storms at the Mvezo Great Place, the seat of the Mandela house.
Set in the Transkei, the picturesque Xhosa homeland with its rolling hills and turquoise huts, the ceremony was a colorful affair with at least 10 oxen slaughtered for the guests' enjoyment.
South Africa, with its 11 official languages, has a multitude of ethnic people and groupings and traditional ties are strong especially in rural areas.
"I will be living among my people and I look forward to assisting with the numerous challenges that we face including social, poverty and health issues," Mandla Mandela said in the statement.
The country's Constitution protects traditional laws and customs, and Houses of Traditional Leaders act in an advisory capacity to the government.
"Monarchy and tribal leadership have a substantial role to play in the continued democratization of the country and I am thankful that this role will allow me an opportunity to follow in my grandfather's footsteps," Mandla Mandela said.
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