JOHANNESBURG -- A South African court ruled Wednesday that Nelson Mandela's grandson must return the bodies of the former president's three deceased children to their original burial site.
The court ruled against grandson Mandla Mandela, who moved the bodies of three Mandela children in 2011 from Mandela's hometown in Qunu to his birthplace of Mvezo, about 15 miles away.
The family members claimed Mandla Mandela moved the graves without the knowledge or consent of his relatives.
The judge said the bodies should be reburied Wednesday afternoon.
The case pitted 16 Mandela family members against Mandla Mandela, a tribal chief who argues that as the family's eldest male he is entitled to take such action. Upping the ante in the family feud, a Mandela family member pressed criminal charges Tuesday against Mandla for tampering with a grave.
Mandela had six children -- four daughters and two sons -- with two wives. Only his three eldest daughters remain alive. Mandla Mandela was the firstborn grandson.
Wandile Kuse, a retired professor and expert in family structures in South Africa, said Mandla Mandela was trying to assert himself in a patriarchal society where "women kind of play second fiddle."
Mandla Mandela "seems to regard himself as the sole male surviving heir, and he's playing on that card," said Kuse, who noted the grandson's interest in new developments in Mandela's birth town. "Maybe he's overstepping."
The graves are that of Makgatho Mandela, who died in 2005 and is Mandla Mandela's father; Mandela's first daughter Makaziwe Mandela, who died as an infant in 1948; and Mandela's second son Madiba Thembekile Mandela, who died in a car accident in 1969.
Mandela, the anti-apartheid hero who was imprisoned for 27 years, remained in critical condition in hospital Wednesday. He was admitted June 8 with a lung infection.
The case over the graves is only a part of a larger family feud over the millions of dollars in wealth that Mandela will leave behind, said Charlene Smith, an authorized biographer of Mandela.
"It's an issue of greed, and everyone needs to be quite clear about that," said Smith, the author of three books on the former president, including "Mandela: In Celebration of a Great Life."
"The most difficult period of his life was not prison. It was democracy and trying to manage his family," she said of Mandela.
Wednesday's case has captivated a nation that has received only very periodic updates on Mandela's health over the last 26 days, since Mandela was admitted to a hospital early on a Saturday morning for a recurring lung infection.
The day after criminal charges were pressed against Mandla Mandela for tampering with a grave, one of South Africa's leading papers led with this dual-meaning headline: "Mandla in grave trouble."
Mandela spent 27 years as a prisoner under apartheid -- a racist government that favored whites over blacks -- and then emerged to negotiate an end to white rule before becoming president.
Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former President F.W. de Klerk in 1993. De Klerk was fitted with a pacemaker on Tuesday.