South African police have opened a case against Nelson Mandela's grandson at the family's request. Relatives believe Mandla Mandela moved the remains of several family members to a different grave without permission.
Authorities in South Africa confirmed they had begun investigating Mandla Mandela - the eldest grandson of former South African leader, Nelson Mandela - following allegations of grave tampering.
"Members of the family have opened the case," Eastern Cape police spokesperson Mzukisi Fatyela said on Tuesday. "We have started our investigation and we will send the case to the senior prosecutor for a decision on whether to prosecute or not."
Mandela, 94, is currently in a Pretoria hospital where he is being treated for a chronic lung infection. The anti-apartheid leader is said to be in a stable but critical condition.
The Mandela family grave site is located in the Eastern Cape town of Qunu, where Mandela spent his childhood. In 2011, the eldest grandson removed the remains of three of Mandela's children: an infant who had died in 1948 and his sons Thembekile and Magkatho who had died in 1969 and 2005, respectively.
Family members say Mandla exhumed the bodies without their permission and moved them to Nelson Mandela's birthplace, Mvezo, which lies roughly 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) southwest of Qunu.
Bodies must be returned
It remains unclear why Mandela's grandson moved relatives' graves away from the family's ancestral home. Given that Mandla holds the traditional position of council head in Mvezo, some of his family members suspect him of gradually developing a tourist site around his family legacy there in anticipation of his grandfather's death.
A court has already ordered the grandson to return the remains by Wednesday. Mandla contends he had acted within his rights as the head of the family, according to his spokesperson Fredd Pilusa.
"[Mandla] has no issues with the repatriation of any of those remains…but obviously it has to be done by those people who have the authority to do so," Pilusa told the news agency AFP.
"Those things would have been decided in the family. But now they're not in the family. They're in the court," said Pilusa.
kms/ccp (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)