MVEZO, South Africa (Reuters) - Nelson Mandela’s grandson was draped in the lion’s skin of an African tribal chief on Monday at a ceremony that anointed the 32-year-old as political heir to the anti-apartheid icon.
Mandla Mandela, who recently graduated with a political science degree from South Africa’s Rhodes University, vowed to lift up the people of the rural Eastern Cape, which is home to Mandela’s Xhosa tribe and one of the nation’s poorest regions.
“There are a lot of expectations, especially with the surname I carry,” the younger Mandela said before the ceremony that installed him as chief of the Mvezo Traditional Council.
Nelson Mandela, now 88, was among a large crowd of dignitaries who assembled for the ceremony in Mvezo, the village where the former South African president was born.
Tribal elders from across South Africa, many of them dressed in beaded traditional robes and animal skins and clutching official staffs as well as cellular phones, applauded as South Africa’s premier statesman arrived.
Mandla Mandela’s accession to one of the Xhosa nation’s chieftaincies marks a return for the Mandela family after nearly 70 years without a member of the Madiba clan assuming tribal leadership responsibilities.
Nelson Mandela’s father, Chief Henry Mandela, was deposed in the early 1900s after a dispute with a local magistrate. Nelson Mandela later renounced his claim to the title to become a lawyer and pursue his struggle to end white minority rule in South Africa.
Xhosa authorities recently decided to resurrect the Mandela chieftaincy and the elderly Mandela, who retired as president in 1999, said it should go to his grandson.
“This is very symbolic for all of us in South Africa,” Eastern Cape Premier Nosimo Balindlela said at the ceremony where Mandla Mandela was formally invested with the traditional lion’s skin that marks tribal leadership.
“It is a dream come true, it is something that shows the old does meet the new.”
Mandla Mandela admits politics is in his blood, raising expectations he may follow in the footsteps of his grandfather in the ruling African National Congress and even the presidency.
He said his priority as chief would be to push education and employment for the tribe, which is among the many black communities that continue to struggle with grinding poverty 13 years after the end of white rule.
“There are no jobs at all around here. People used to be reliant on agriculture and now most of them rely on government grants,” he said.
Traditional authorities say the young Mandela will have his hands full presiding over local ceremonies, resolving disputes and acting as a spokesman for his community.
Local residents said they were thrilled to once more have a Mandela in charge.
“The chiefs are here to protect us. We are always glad to have a new one,” said Nonkoliseko Sobuza, a mother who dressed up in a traditional beaded turban and white chalk make-up for the ceremony.