Charlize Theron told: Hands off Mandela...

First it was the Congolese president, now it's Oscar-winning starlet who has incurred the wrath of those charged with protecting the legacy of South Africa's living legend

Neither presidents nor film stars are safe from moves to protect the image of Nelson Mandela. Actress Charlize Theron has become the latest person to fall foul of the protectors of the 91-year-old icon's legacy.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation has accused the Oscar-winning South African actress of auctioning off a meeting with the great man without its permission. A week ago, the foundation hit out against Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso whose latest book, Straight Speaking For Africa, falsely claims to contain a foreword by Mandela.

Oscar-winning Theron, 34, raised more than £85,000 at a charity gala in San Francisco earlier this month by offering a trip to next year's World Cup and a meeting with "Madiba". The sale made headlines after Theron raised the stakes by offering to kiss the successful bidder in the OneXOne auction, who turned out to be a woman.

Achmat Dangor, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said Theron had not contacted the foundation ahead of offering the auction prize. He said: "There is a very rigorous process to secure a meeting with Mr Mandela, and as yet, we have not have had any such request from Charlize Theron. Even the charities that he created have never auctioned off time with Mr Mandela. We nevertheless wish Ms Theron well in her charity work."

The reaction from the foundation comes amid mounting efforts to protect the legacy of the frail former anti-apartheid activist.

The foreword to the English translation of President Sassou Nguesso's book reportedly describes the Congolese president – who has been in power for 12 years and whose government has a poor human rights record – as "one of our great African leaders". Dangor said: "Mandela has never written a foreword or preface to this book. The request was declined. What actually transpired was that a speech attributed to Mr Mandela 13 years ago at a dinner in Cape Town was portrayed as a foreword for an edition of the book released in the United States in 2009."

The Brazzaville government reacted furiously, with a presidential adviser telling the BBC that the foundation was treating Mandela "like a brand" and that "Mandela's name does not belong to the foundation but to the entire continent".

The problem is, "ownership" of Mandela's legacy remains a vexed issue – all the more so because many feel entitled to it, including the foundation, his grandson Mandla Mandela, as well as the ANC, the South African National Archives and several museums.

There is also an argument that, unlike Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Mandela is still alive and thus belongs to everybody. Amid rivalry and genuine confusion over how a living immortal being should be treated, it has become increasingly difficult to decipher the real wishes of Mandela and his third wife, Graça Machel.

In the decade following 1990 – when Mandela was released after 27 years in jail – his image was freely used on everything from coasters to clocks. He seemed to take pleasure in attending pop concerts and posing for photos with the likes of the Spice Girls. Those were the years of the 1994 Rugby World Cup at which Mandela famously wore a Springbok jersey and thus endeared himself to the country's sceptical whites.

In 2004, after Theron had won an Oscar for Monster, Mandela offered her a heroine's homecoming, at which she memorably burst into tears, exclaiming "I love you". Conceivably, in those heady days when celebrity photo-ops were seen as an means of putting the "New South Africa" on the world map, the good-natured Mandela might have made himself available for a meeting with a San Francisco auction-bidder ushered in by Theron. But times have changed.

Even though the stooped, thin Mandela is said to be fitter than he looks, he turned 91 in July and this year has limited his public engagements to a couple of election rallies in support of the African National Congress and a handful of gala dinners and personal appearances for his charities. Recent rumours that his health is waning have been roundly scotched.

At the same time, perhaps realising that Mandela's celebrity status was allowed to get out of hand in the 1990s, those guarding his legacy have attempted to rein in the unseemly "Brand Mandela" phenomenon.

In November last year, after much legal wrangling and debate, diamond millionaire Nicky Oppenheimer handed over Mandela's diary from 1962 and extensive court records from the 1963-1964 Rivonia trial to the South African National Archives. These had been bought from the trial judge, Percy Yutar, by the Oppenheimer family in 1995.

Earlier this month at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Nelson Mandela Foundation offered for sale the rights to a 100,000-word archive of notes, diaries and letters by Mandela. Money raised was to be shared between Mandela and the foundation, whose website states that it "contributes to the making of a just society by promoting the values, vision and work of our founder".

The foundation runs a "dialogue programme" for local communities and supports "Mandela Day", created this year on 18 July – Mandela's birthday – to promote good deeds. The foundation also acts as an umbrella for Mandela's other initiatives, including 46664 – named after his prison number – as well as his Children's Fund and the Mandela-Rhodes educational foundation.

Earlier this year, grandson Mandla Mandela denied that he had sold television rights to Mandela's funeral in Qunu village in the Eastern Cape for £230,000. Yet it is known that television networks have for years sniffed around the village, possibly making deals with villagers for good "positions" come the day Mandela dies.

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