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Nelson Mandela's grandson Mandla talks to soldiers outside the Johannesburg house where Mandela died, December 8, 2013.YVES HERMAN/Reuters

In the same week that Nelson Mandela died, his grandson was scheduled to appear in court on charges of assault and pointing a firearm after a car crash and street scuffle.

Mandla Mandela managed to postpone the court case when he discovered that his grandfather, the 95-year-old anti-apartheid hero, was on his deathbed. But the assault and firearm charges were just the latest in a long line of legal and political controversies that have plagued the Mandela family in recent years.

Mandla Mandela, as the oldest male descendant of South Africa's first democratically elected president, has claimed to be the heir of the family bloodline and the Mandela legacy. Yet he has been embroiled in court battles, divorce squabbles, alleged bigamy and other scandals for many months, inflicting serious damage on his reputation and the family's image.

Most of the Mandela family turned against him after a bizarre incident where he secretly exhumed the bodies of three Mandela children and moved their remains to Mvezo, the village where he is chief. The other family members took him to court and forced the remains to be returned to their original graves, triggering a furious eruption of verbal attacks from the grandson.

There had been an earlier wave of controversy when Mandla Mandela bulldozed the remains of his grandfather's birthplace, a humble home in Mvezo, and replaced it with a replica. Historians were dismayed.

The family members seem to have put their squabbles behind them since the death of their patriarch last Thursday, maintaining a dignified and unified front. But the unseemly feuding for much of this year has raised questions over whether anyone in the family has the moral authority to inherit the Mandela mantle.

Mr. Mandela's daughter, Makaziwe, has emerged as a strong challenger to Mandla Mandela and a possible heir to the family leadership. But she was widely criticized this year for teaming up with other family members to launch a court battle to gain legal control of a $2.8-million (U.S.) trust fund, financed by royalties from Mandela-branded artworks. Their battle was later abandoned, but not before sparking much outrage in the country.

Many family members have faced sharp criticism for their commercial activities, which often appear to be capitalizing crassly on Nelson Mandela's name.

Among their business ventures: a wine label under the "House of Mandela" name; a company producing T-shirts and other fashion gear under the name of Mr. Mandela's famous autobiography; and a television reality show called Being Mandela, featuring two of the Mandela granddaughters. Two of his grandsons reportedly tried to organize a boxing tournament at a casino in Monaco to coincide with their grandfather's 95th birthday.

Then there is Mr. Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, often praised as the "Mother of the Nation." While she is a hero to many, she is still dogged by accusations of involvement in kidnapping and murder in the final years of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Earlier this year, police exhumed the remains of two bodies in a Soweto cemetery. One of the bodies was identified as a man last seen with Ms. Madikizela-Mandela and her thuggish group of bodyguards in 1988, and the other body is suspected of being a similar case. South Africa's truth and reconciliation commission has linked her to both deaths.