This week, villagers in Mvezo in the Eastern Cape had mixed feelings about Mandla Mandela’s new wife, Rabia Clarke. Some welcomed her, while others were sceptical about their chief’s conversion to Islam.
About 300 people attended a two-day traditional celebration that saw Mandela (42) present Clarke (22), who is Muslim, to the Thembu community last weekend. Villagers were transported in buses to join the festivities, during which Clarke was rechristened Nkosikazi Nosekeni Rabia Mandela.
Nosekeni is former president Nelson Mandela’s mother’s name.
The media were barred from these events.
Traditional leader Nkosi Daludumo Mtirara, spokesperson for the royal family for the kingdom of abaThembu, said he hoped Mandela’s fourth bride was now welcomed by the ancestors.
“Zwelivelile [Mandela’s praise name] is a chief. He is the head of Mandelas. He carries the spear of his clan. If and when our custom is compromised, we will intervene. As for now, we view this as a family matter and, as long as the family is happy, it is okay with us too,” he said.
Mandela and Nkosikazi Nosekeni tied the knot in an Islamic wedding ceremony in Cape Town last month. Respected imam Sheikh Ebrahim Gabriels, former president of the Muslim Judicial Council, performed their nikaah at the Mother City’s Kensington mosque.
Gabriels told City Press that Clarke’s father, Aslam, a businessman from Pinelands, had verified Mandela’s conversion to Islam in November.
But when City Press contacted him telephonically this week, Mandela declined to speak about the marriage or its cultural implications, such as the possibility of a mosque being built at Mvezo.
“No comment, please. Just no comment,” he said.
Senior Thembu traditional leaders told City Press that Mandela was free to associate with any religion, as long as abaThembu customs were not compromised.
“As long as the wife accepts our customs as abaThembu and amaDlomo, we don’t have a problem,” said Nkosi Mfundo Mtirara, a senior traditional leader of abaThembu, this week.
Meanwhile, several prominent South African Muslim leaders have embraced the union.
Speaking to City Press from his home town, Barberton, in Mpumalanga this week, Economic Freedom Fighters MP Younus Cassim Vawda said: “This is very good for diversity in South Africa. We need to educate people about how, in diversity, we bring different values to the nation.
“Islam is a very tolerant religion. The Islamic instruction is very clear in that it explains to people what Islam is about, but ultimately the choice of conversion resides with a person.”
But some villagers in Mvezo said they were concerned about the union.
“He is a traditional leader and is supposed to be a custodian of our customs and traditions. I don’t think it’s all right if his new religion is going to prevent him from performing rituals,” said a villager, who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation.
Another villager, who also wished to remain anonymous, said: “We don’t know what to make of it. It’s really strange. We have never had a Muslim in our community and don’t know what the religion is all about. We just hope the chief is not going to turn his back on our customs.”