As Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition in hospital, a family feud over the Mandela family grave site has returned to the courts.

Mr Mandela's oldest daughter, Makaziwe, and 15 other family members have pressed a court application at Mthatha High Court.

They are seeking to get the former president’s grandson Mandla Mandela to return the bodies of three of Mandela's children to their original graves in the eastern rural village of Qunu.

He acknowledges having exhumed the three bodies from his grandfather's homestead, which he then reburied some 30km away in Mvezo village, Nelson Mandela's birthplace.

Other Mandela family members reportedly want the family bodies returned to their original graves at the homestead in Qunu, thereby removing any precedent for Nelson Mandela's remains to be relocated after he is buried there.

Mandla has said he will contest the legal action.

He released a statement, saying he was "sad and disappointed that yet again some members of the family have chosen the courts to resolve intricate family matters."

Nelson Mandela’s grandson described the behaviour of those family members involved in the court application as "contrary to our customs, and a deep disappointment to my grandfather and his ancestors."

The matter was "a customary issue that should be handled by the family in a more traditional and customary way.