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Mandela's heir defies court order (and the other Mrs Mandela) to marry again

Clan chief wed in traditional ceremony says estranged partner is delaying divorce

Nelson Mandela's chosen political heir – his grandson Mandla – has defied a court order and married for the second time in less than two years, even though the divorce from his first wife has yet to be finalised.

The marriage of the MP, 37, to Nodiyala Mbali Makhathini on Christmas Eve has reignited a debate in South Africa over polygamy and the contradictory cohabitation of customary and Western-inspired law. Mandla Mandela, who heads the Mandela clan, married Makhathini at a traditional ceremony at his Mvezo Royal Palace in the Eastern Cape, in defiance of a legal ban granted to his first wife, Tando Mabunu-Mandela.

Mrs Mabunu-Mandela, whom Mandla wed in a civil ceremony in 2004, is seeking to have the marriage annulled. This year, she obtained the annulment of a customary marriage he entered into in March 2010 with a French woman, Anais Grimaud.

Her lawyer, Wesley Hayes, said he would apply for annulment. "Both Mandela and his new wife are in contempt of court. They ignored a court order," he told the Sapa news agency. '"Mandla should focus on getting divorced successfully rather than marrying more wives," he said.

At the request of his grandfather, Mandla quit a Johannesburg IT company to take up the Mvezo chieftaincy in 2007. The move restored to the family a title which had been stripped by a colonial magistrate in humiliating circumstances in 1918.

In his autobiography, A Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela describes how his father refused to obey a summons to appear before the white magistrate over the issue of a missing ox. He refers to his father's clash with the magistrate – which led to the family being dispossessed and forced to move to nearby Qunu – as proof of "a stubborn sense of fairness that I recognise in myself'".

Mandla is one of 266 chiefs heading the 2.6-million-strong Thembu branch of the Xhosa nation. After the 2009 election, he was made an MP and, although inexperienced, immediately appointed to the parliamentary committee for rural development and land reform.

But Mandla – whose father Makgatho died from Aids complications in 2005 – has made more of an impact in matrimonial disputes than in parliament. Last week, a sheriff seized assets of his worth 100 000 Rands (£7,800) after he failed to pay maintenance to Mrs Mabunu-Mandela pending their divorce. Mandla says his estranged wife is intentionally delaying the divorce, which has been under discussion since 2009.

Polygamy is recognised in South Africa. President Zuma, a Zulu, has five wives, who all receive maintenance from the state. But experts say the law is clear – a man cannot be polygamous and monogamous at the same time. Rhodes University Professor Richman Mqeke said: "If the first marriage is civil, as it was in Mandla's case, he cannot have another marriage. A civil marriage is by its nature monogamous. He cannot get married again before getting divorced."