Chief Mandla Mandela, Nelson Mandela's grandson, arrives at a ceremony to honour his grandfather by the African chiefs, kings and queens at Freedom Park in Pretoria November 5, 2009. Freedom Park is a memorial for those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of South Africa. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko (SOUTH AFRICA SOCIETY)

Qunu, Eastern Cape - Three family graves at the Qunu, Eastern Cape, home of critically ill former president Nelson Mandela had no human remains when they were exhumed earlier this week, a Mthatha undertaker told Sapa on Friday.

Luvuyo Titi said the Mandela family had asked his company to exhume the graves of Mandela's oldest son Makgatho Mandela, Mandela's first daughter Makaziwe, and his second son Madiba Thembekile.

Makgatho Mandela died on January 6, 2005, aged 55; Makaziwe died aged nine months in 1948; and Madiba Thembekile died in a car accident on July 13, 1969, aged 24.

“The family informed us that they obtained permission from the municipality to go ahead with exhumations of the graves,” Titi said.

“When we opened the graves they contained no human remains.”

The exhumations were conducted under the supervision of a municipal health inspector.

Titi reported what he had found to the Mandela family, who called an urgent meeting at the Mandela home on Tuesday.

Two Mandela family members at the meeting told Sapa that Mandela's grandson, Mandla Mandela, was confronted about ordering the removal of the remains from the family cemetery.

“When the family confronted Mandla about the missing bones, he conceded to having them moved to his home village in Mvezo,” said the relative, who asked to remain anonymous.

“When Mandla was ordered to bring back the remains, he stormed out of the meeting.”

During the meeting, Mandla's younger brother, Ndaba, said he wanted his father, Makgatho, back.

Mandela family members accused a family elder, Napilisi Mandela, of supporting Mandla.

“He is not supposed to support Mandla as he presides over family affairs,” the relative said.

“The family was not consulted about the first exhumation of the graves.”

On Friday, 16 applicants from the Mandela family applied for an urgent high court interdict against Mandla Mandela, the Eastern Cape health department and the Eastern Cape premier.

Details of the interdict were not made public, with lawyers for the applicants and the State refusing to take questions from the media on the matter.

It emerged in court on Friday that the sheriff of the court was unable to deliver the summons to Mandla Mandela to appear in the Mthatha High Court, as the gate of his Mvezo home was locked. He was also unreachable by telephone.

Mandla Mandela has until Saturday to respond to the interdict. - Sapa