CAPE TOWN – The reversion of the grandson of Nelson Mandela to Islam has sparked debates among South Africa traditional leaders, seeing his new faith as affecting his ability to uphold Xhosa traditions.
“There is nothing wrong with a traditional leader following any faith he chooses but we are concerned about whether he will be able to continue performing his responsibilities as a chief,” Mwelo Nonkonyane, chief of the Congress of Traditional Leaders in South Africa (Contralesa), told the BBC on Wednesday, February 10.
News about Nkosi Zwelivelile ‘Mandla’ Mandela’s reversion to Islam was published earlier this week after his marriage to a South African Muslim woman.
Mandla confirmed his union to Rabia Clarke on Sunday, February 7, after news of the ceremony sparked comments on a Facebook page.
The announcement was followed by a statement from Mandela himself.
According to reports, Mandla, the chief of the Mvezo Traditional Council, reverted to Islam about last November.
Mandla, 42, inherited his position as chief of Mvezo in the AbaThembu clan from his grandfather, Nelson Mandela.
In rural South Africa, away from many of the trappings of modern life, traditional leaders play a key role in their communities.
This could be in the form of ceremonies or day to day decisions on how to resolve conflicts.
Nonkonyane said that Mandla may face some tough questions over his decision to convert to Islam, being asked to perform traditions that may contradict with his new faith.
These traditions may include leading thanksgiving rituals for ancestors, which would include presenting slaughtered animals to them in prayer.
Nonkonyane added that Mandela has already gone against traditions by assuming his wife’s culture.
“According to African tradition, it is the woman that must become part of the family she is marrying into. When she accepted Mandla’s proposal, the expectation was for her to adopt the ways of his people,” he said.
However, Mandela seems content with his decision.
“Although Rabia and I were raised in different cultural and religious traditions, our coming together reflects what we have in common: We are South Africans,” he is quoted as saying at the ceremony.