Johannesburg (AFP) - Nelson Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has launched a legal claim to the former South African leader's country home, local media reported on Tuesday.
Her lawyers said in a letter quoted by the Daily Dispatch newspaper that since the house in Qunu was bought while the two were still married, traditional custom dictated it should be inherited by Madikizela-Mandela and their children.
"This position becomes applicable irrespective of whether the wife was divorced or not," lawyer Mvuyo Notyesi wrote in the letter dated July 18 -- the late leader's birthday, which is celebrated internationally as Mandela Day.
"In fact, the property in question was obtained by Mrs Madikizela-Mandela whilst the husband was in prison."
Mandela spent 27 years in apartheid jails before becoming South Africa's first black president in the post-apartheid elections of 1994.
He divorced Madikizela-Mandela in 1996 and she was not named in his will.
"The view we hold is that the... property belongs to the generation of Mr Nelson Mandela and Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as their common and parental home," said Notyesi.
The legal firm could not be reached for comment.
- 'House bought by Winnie' -
Mandela's $4.3-million (3.2-million-euro) estate was released in February, two months after his death, and left his assets to various family members, personal staff, schools and the ruling African National Congress.
His third wife Graca Machel received four properties in her native Mozambique as well as cars, art work, and jewellery -- many of which were her own assets that she brought to their marriage.
Mandela married Machel, the widow of Mozambique president Samora Machel, in 1998.
In the will, Mandela left his property in Qunu to the family trust "for the benefit of the Mandela family and my third wife and her two children".
"The Qunu property should be used by my family in perpetuity in order to preserve the unity of the Mandela family," the revered anti-apartheid hero and Nobel peace laureate stated in the will.
The lawyers' letter said Madikizela-Mandela's legal bid was neither attacking nor contesting the will but was "only asserting the traditional and customary rights on what may be contentious in the future".
The Nelson Mandela Foundation said it had "no archival information" on when the property was bought.
In his autobiography, Mandela said that after his 1990 release from prison, "I set about plans to build a country house for myself in Qunu."
The floor plan of the house, which was completed in 1993, was based on the warder's house he lived in at Victor Vester prison near the southwestern town of Paarl, where he spent the last 14 years of his imprisonment.
The modest compound in Mandela's childhood village of Qunu came under the spotlight last week after the Eastern Cape provincial government was forced to step in to save dozens of starving cattle.
Siyakudumisa Gabada, who manages farming operations at the compound, said that a winter drought had made conditions at the farm "extremely difficult" and that the cattle were in a "terrible state".