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Mandla Mandela, grandson of former South African President Nelson Mandela, talks to journalists during a news conference in Mvezo in the Eastern Cape of South Africa July 4, 2013, a day after a court order to exhume the remains of three of the anti-apartheid hero's children.

Stringer/Reuters

A nasty power struggle in Nelson Mandela's family took a sensational new twist on Thursday as his grandson held a press conference to reveal explosive family secrets and to attack the legitimacy of family members who took him to court.

Mandla Mandela, the oldest grandson and self-proclaimed heir of the 94-year-old South African liberation hero, said the family members were seeking "revenge" against a "soft target" when they took him to court to obtain an order to exhume the remains of three Mandela children who were secretly buried in the grandson's village.

Nelson Mandela remains critically ill in a Pretoria hospital, connected to a life support system.

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The family feud has been fuelled by disputes over money, power, tribal tradition and sexual affairs. Among many allegations, Mandla Mandela told the press conference that his brother, Mbuso, had impregnated Mandla's wife, and that none of his family members had responded to his requests to mediate the dispute.

He also alleged that his aunt, Makaziwe, had secretly chosen a burial site for Nelson Mandela without consulting the former president, which led to Mandla's decision to exhume the remains of three Mandela children and transfer them to a secret site in his own village, Mvezo, about 30 kilometres away.

One of the key issues in the feud is whether the family should be led by Nelson Mandela's oldest grandson, Mandla, or his oldest daughter, Makaziwe. Under tribal tradition in South Africa, male heirs normally have greater authority. As the oldest male descendant, Mandla claims greater legitimacy than his aunt.

He told the press conference that Makaziwe is married and should be focusing on her own husband and family, rather than asserting leadership over Nelson Mandela's family issues.

Mandla Mandela said the family members, led by Makaziwe, wanted vengeance against him because he opposed their bid for legal control of a $2.8-million (U.S.) trust fund, financed by royalties from Mandela-branded artworks. He said the legal battle was shameful, and Makaziwe had "sowed division and destruction" in the family. "This is the family that took my grandfather to court to get his money," he said.

Mandla Mandela has been furious that his own legitimacy has been questioned by family members who noted that he was born out of wedlock. He said his mother was married under customary law to his father, and he fought back by alleging that his brother, Ndaba, was the product of a relationship between his father and a married woman.

Fifteen family members, led by Makaziwe, went to court last week in the Eastern Cape province, ancestral home of the Mandela family, to gain control of the remains of the three Mandela children, including Mandla's father, and to force their return to Qunu, the Mandela home where they were originally buried.

They won the court order, and officials broke down a gate in Mvezo on Wednesday and dug up the remains with a police escort.

The remains were taken to the nearest city, Mthatha, for identification tests to be done on Thursday before they are reburied in Qunu.

Some of the 15 family members who took him to court cannot be considered legitimate family members, even though they used the family name, he said. "Everyone wants to be a Mandela," he said.

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