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Family feud is almost 'like spitting in' Mandela's face, Tutu says

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Story highlights

  • Mandela getting kidney dialysis, source says
  • Tutu intervened after a bitter dispute among relatives of the anti-apartheid icon
  • The bitter squabble is over the burial of Mandela's three children
  • They were exhumed and reburied this week in Mandela's boyhood home of Qunu

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has a few choice words for the feuding family of Nelson Mandela: Resolve your differences, and stop tainting the former president's name.

Tutu intervened after a bitter dispute among relatives over the burial of Mandela's three deceased children. His grandson exhumed them from Qunu two years ago, then reburied them in Mvezo.

The rest of the family sued the grandson, and a court ordered him to return the remains to Qunu, where the former president spent his childhood. They were reburied there this week.

The drama has played out in public, with the grandson, Mandla Mandela, lashing out at his relatives during a news conference.

Mandela's family dispute comes at a precarious time. The statesman is hospitalized and on life support for a recurring lung infection.

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Though he has been getting kidney dialysis, he is not in a vegetative state and opens his eyes when people talk to him, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told CNN on Friday.

    The feud has appalled the nation, prompting Tutu to step in and appeal to the family to stop.

    "Please, please, please may we think not only of ourselves. It's almost like spitting in Madiba's face," Tutu said in a statement, according to the South African Press Association.

    "Your anguish, now, is the nation's anguish -- and the world's. We want to embrace you, to support you, to shine our love for Madiba through you."

    Madiba is the revered statesman's clan name.

    Mandela has been hospitalized in Pretoria for nearly a month.

    Court documents filed in relation to the case revealed more details on the condition of South Africa's first black president.

    His health had declined so sharply last week that his family was considering whether to take him off life support, a court document revealed Thursday. His condition later improved.

    The document, known as a "certificate of urgency," was filed on June 26.

    It stated that Mandela, 94, had taken "a turn for the worst" and doctors had advised his family to switch off his life support machine.

    "Rather than prolonging his suffering, the Mandela family is exploring this option as a very real probability," it added.

    Mandela remains in critical but stable condition, President Jacob Zuma's office reported Thursday.

    Considered the founding father of South Africa's democracy, Mandela became an international figure while enduring 27 years in prison for fighting against apartheid, the country's system of racial segregation. He emerged from prison in 1990 and became the nation's first black president four years later.

    His lung problems started during his years in prison under the nation's now-defunct apartheid regime.

    Tutu, who was also a hero of the anti-apartheid movement, is friends with Mandela.

    The remains are Mandela's daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, who died as a baby in 1948; his eldest son, Madiba Thembekile, who died in a car crash in 1969; and Makgatho Mandela, father to Mandla, who died in 2005.

    Before they were reburied this week, a forensic test was done to confirm the identities of the bodies.