Keeping up with the Mandelas: Nelson's granddaughters star in new reality TV show 'Being Mandela'

Nelson Mandela's granddaughters star in a new show about "carrying on the family legacy while juggling motherhood in Johannesburg"

First it was the Osbournes, then the Kardashians, and now even the Mandelas have their own reality TV show.

The granddaughters of the former South African president appeared in the first episode of Being Mandela on Sunday night, which aired in the US on Cosi TV on the 23rd anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.

The show follows the lives of Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini, the fashionable, 30-something granddaughters of Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

The former Freedom Fighter, 94, does not appear in the show, but his ex-wife Winnie “Big Mommy” Madikizela-Mandela features, and appears to enjoy the limelight.

Despite Mandela’s decision not to appear on the big screen, his granddaughters have admitted that the former anti-apartheid activist “sort of likes” reality TV and will “definitely” watch their show.

“He loves Toddlers and Tiaras,” says Swati. “Because of the kids! He loves the children.”

Being Mandela, however, is less concerned with “following families on their quest for sparkly crowns, big titles and lots of cash” like Toddlers and Tiaras. Instead, the 13-episode season follows the two women as they “carry on the family legacy while juggling motherhood in Johannesburg”.

In one episode the sisters make an emotional visit to the prison on Robben Island where Mandela spent 18 out of 27 years in prison; in another Swati works on publishing the prison diary that her grandmother wrote but cannot bear to read.

As with most reality shows there is also a healthy dose of family bickering. The biggest source of tension is Winnie, who loves to put pressure on Swati, single mother of a four-year-old daughter, about getting  married. Swati becomes furious when Zaziwe blurts out to their grandmother that her sister is dating someone despite being sworn to secrecy.

What, then, does Mandela make of the show? He may indulge in a little reality TV, but what does he make of his granddaughters and ex-wife appearing in a series that so obviously trades off his name and reputation?

“Like every family, there's a bit of drama here and there, but we're very respectful of our name and we're very respectful of our grandparent's legacy and we're very mindful of that. In anything that we try to do, we always try to maintain the integrity of the family,” says Swati.

“To be able to be in a position as a woman to choose if I want to go into entertainment — I'm fortunate that my grandmother did that for me. She fought, she was in solitary confinement for 18 months so that I can sit here and I can have this choice and live it out as I please.

“We're looking back at our history to say look how far we've come, as a country, as a nation ... and we're excited about continuing the legacy, but we're doing it in our own way,” she added.

The sisters have decided to further their family legacy in another way by producing a clothing line named after Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom and inspired by his colourful Madiba shirts.

The day-to-day running of Long Walk to Freedom is a major focus of the show, creating the squabbles and semi-scripted moments that define reality TV.

Perhaps the producers took inspiration from Jersey Shore, where the likes of Snooki and The Situation get into various sticky situations with their boss Danny, owner of “Shore Store”, a T-shirt shop on the boardwalk where the tanned guidos work.

Let’s hope the comparisons to Jersey Shore end there.

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