Makaziwe Mandela, daughter of former president Nelson Mandela, left, and grandson Ndaba Mandela, right, sit in court in Mthatha. File photo: Schalk van Zuydam

Johannesburg - The Mandela family members, who took Mandla Mandela to court over the relocation of the graves of former president Nelson Mandela's children, were too poor to afford their own lawyers, the Sunday Times reported.

The Rhodes University Law clinic told the newspaper it had established some of the Mandela family members were “indigent” but would not reveal the criteria used to determine their eligibility for funding the case.

“A call was made to the management of the law clinic requesting permission to take on the matter,” director of special projects at the university Susan Smailes was quoted as saying.

“Permission was granted as the management was satisfied that there was compliance with the means test.”

When Sunday Times asked Ndaba Mandela whether his family members had requested legal aid and which of his relatives he considered to be indigent, he said: “Be careful of your sources.”

Makaziwe Mandela did not respond to requests for comment from the newspaper.

The clinic states on its website that it provided free legal services to the “indigent people from Grahamstown and the surrounding area, who cannot afford to pay a private practitioner” as one of its primary objectives.

“We find their claim that some members of the Mandela family are indigent absurd,” said Mandla Mandela's spokesman Freddy Pilusa.

The court case referred to the graves of Mandela's eldest son Madiba Thembekile, who died in a car accident in 1969; Mandla Mandela's father Makgatho Mandela, who died in 2005; and Mandela's first daughter Makaziwe Mandela, who died as an infant in 1948.

On July 3, the court ordered Mandla Mandela to return the remains of his grandfather's three children to Qunu from Mvezo, where he had moved them two years ago. It then dismissed his application to rescind its decision as frivolous.

The ailing anti-apartheid icon was admitted into a Pretoria hospital on June 8 with a recurring lung infection. - Sapa