The man and brand that is Nelson Mandela

The ageing anti-apartheid leader’s name is used to win elections, sell wine, and even to launch a reality TV show. Nastasya Tay in Johannesburg reports on the unseemly family disputes involving family members that are marring his legacy


He is everywhere. On a mural on a dusty wall outside a Soweto church, and on the stained-glass window inside.

A disproportionate enormous bronze likeness stands sentry over a posh Johannesburg shopping mall. His face gazes over the windblown fields of KwaZulu Natal where he was arrested, assembled out of laser-cut metal strips by a local artist. He is on road signs, on bridges, in school books. He is on T-shirts, clocks, coasters – and firmly in South Africa’s collective consciousness.

Among the connotations of former President Nelson Mandela’s name is its marketing worth, which runs into millions – a fact that is said to be dividing his family, while the 94-year-old’s long-held dream to build a children’s hospital continues to languish. 

It is a sad irony that the family of Tata Mandela – the “father of the nation” whose face graces South Africa’s new banknotes – is now fighting over cash.

Mr Mandela, the man who led South Africa’s fight for freedom against the racist apartheid regime, represented hopes for a more equal South Africa. But it remains one of the most economically disparate in the world. Trust is ebbing in a country where, according to a recent report, corruption cost the economy nearly one billion rand (£70m) last year alone. Government leaders appear to be confronting scandal after scandal. For many South Africans, recent reports that Mr Mandela’s children intend to sue him for their share of his legacy, whilst their father convalesces after a bout of pneumonia, drag the country’s moral compass to a new low.

In May, Mr Mandela’s daughters Makaziwe and Zenani reportedly launched a court case against several long-time associates of the former president in a dispute over the control of two companies – Harmonieux Investment Holdings and Magnifique Investment Holdings. The companies were established primarily to channel funds from the sale of prints of the elder statesman’s hands, estimated to be worth more than £1.1m, for the benefit of the Mandela family.

The two daughters allege that lawyers George Bizos and Bally Chuene, and Cabinet minister Tokyo Sexwale, have no right to remain as company directors because they were not properly appointed, and say the three men have neglected their duties.

Bally Chuene, responding on behalf of himself, Bizos and Sexwale, has denied wrongdoing.

Mr Bizos, a human rights lawyer who helped defend the anti-apartheid leader against charges of sabotage 50 years ago and remains a close friend, has denied the allegations, saying he and his associates were appointed on Mr Mandela’s wishes five years ago.

The 84-year-old Mr Bizos reportedly said Makaziwe Mandela’s goal was to take some company money, estimated to be £860,000, without providing details of how it would be used. “This woman wanted to take over the money, not for any specific purpose, and distribute it to members of the family,” a South African newspaper quoted him as saying. “That is contrary to the provisions of the trust. Therefore we refused to give her the money.”

The ensuing storm – and rhetoric – has been bitter and public. In an open letter, Tukwini, Makaziwe’s 38-year-old daughter, accused Mr Bizos of being a “peddler of falsehood”.

“You... have spent the whole of last week casting aspersions on my family, spreading blatant lies and innuendo, hoping that a trial through the media will deter us from defending our name and legacy,” she wrote, adding that Mr Mandela’s name “catapulted” Mr Bizos into “undeserved stardom”.

In a family statement, all but one of Mr Mandela’s grandchildren said all three company directors have tried to portray the Mandela family as “insensitive money-grabbers” with no respect for the legacy of the anti-apartheid leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

The Mandela family includes three daughters from two marriages, 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Mandla Mandela – a tribal chief in Mvezo, a village near his grandfather’s hometown of Qunu – has sought to distance himself from the dispute, according to media reports.

Zenani and Makaziwe Mandela reportedly also intend to fight a 2004 High Court order which gave their father the right to fire his lawyer Ismail Ayob and bar Mr Ayob from selling any of Mandela’s artworks. The Mandela sisters have always retained Mr Ayob as their lawyer, despite the fact that their father accused him of selling Mandela artworks without his knowledge.

Mr Mandela’s family have hit back at accusations that they have attempted to cash in on their family name. “Most of us are gainfully employed, work for our own companies and run our own projects,” said the family statement, though it fails to say that some of these companies and projects use the Mandela name.

Alongside the 46664 clothing label and wristbands with Mr Mandela’s prison number engraved in metal – which raise money for the elder statesman’s charitable foundations – there are a number of commercial ventures. The “House of Mandela” wine label, for instance, run by Makaziwe Mandela and her daughter Tukwini, was launched in the US this February. The wines are produced by South African vineyards and rebranded under the “House of Mandela” label. They cost up to £27 a bottle.

“They are super premium wines, the quality matches the price, and we are not shy about that,” Tukwini Mandela told the local press, adding that part of the proceeds will go to charity.

There is also a Mandela reality television show, Being Mandela, which stars two of Mr Mandela’s granddaughters – Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini, which follows their lives as descendants of one of the world’s most iconic figures. They grew up and still live in the US, where the series was filmed and premiered in February.

When the show made it to South African satellite airwaves in April, there was, unsurprisingly, a backlash. “Is it wrong to say this show is really about exploiting Nelson Mandela’s name?” social commentator and Mail & Guardian columnist Khaya Dlanga asked on Twitter. “Mandela went to jail for 27 years so that we can have reality shows.”

The sisters insist “Big Grandpa” – Mandela – and “Big Mommy”, Mandela’s second wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, are “in to” the show. It remains unclear whether any of the proceeds from the show will go to any of Mr Mandela’s charities.

Sello Hatang, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, has defended the Mandela family, and says the way people choose to remember the elder statesman is a personal choice. “But we must distinguish between ‘Mandela’ and ‘Nelson Mandela’,” he told The Independent, “It’s up to them how they use it. It’s not the centre’s place to tell the family how to use their name.”

Despite the publicity – and lucrative possibilities – of the Mandela name, it has not kept financial difficulties at bay. Last month, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela lived up to her reputation for stubbornness, refusing to allow officials from a Soweto sheriff’s office onto her property, when they attempted to gain entry to auction off part of her art collection and her 24-piece silver tea service to settle a long-overdue debt.

Lawyers say Ms Madikizela-Mandela owes over £3,200, including interest and legal costs, to a private senior school for her grandniece’s accommodation while she was studying there.

Forced to leave because no locksmith was willing to force entry into her home, the sheriff has vowed to return with police in tow.

Also on hold is Tata Mandela’s dream of his legacy: a children’s hospital in Johannesburg. Vuyo Lutseke, spokeswoman for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust, told The Independent that the project stems from a “personal request” from Mr Mandela himself.

She says they remain a third short of the crucial £26m required for construction of the building, but are optimistic that funding will come through in time for the scheduled start date in August.

It all comes at a time when the gaps between Mr Mandela’s hospital stays are getting shorter. Having been hospitalised for the third time in four months, Mr Mandela was discharged in April into the care of doctors at home, where he was subject to a controversial visit by leaders of the African National Congress. A picture with Mr Mandela still carries some hefty political capital.

Television footage of last month’s visit by President Jacob Zuma and members of the ANC leadership with a frail Mandela, the indentations of his oxygen mask still visible on his face, blinking at the flash of a camera, caused widespread outrage across the country. It was the first time he had been seen for more than a year.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu described the elder statesman as “glowing”, insisting the visit was not a publicity stunt and only an attempt to “share Madiba with the world”, referring to him by his clan name.

ANC supporters accused their political opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), of exploiting the Mandela name when they published a pamphlet with an old photograph of him embracing Helen Suzman, an anti-apartheid activist whose party was a forerunner of the DA.

Nobel Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has asked South Africans to rise above political loyalties and to prepare themselves for Mandela’s inevitable death.

“The best memorial to Nelson Mandela would be a democracy that was really up and running; a democracy in which every single person in South Africa knew that they mattered, and where other people knew that each person mattered,” he wrote in an editorial published in a local paper. 

Throughout the furore over the Mandela name, the Mandela millions, the Mandela legacy, one voice remains absent: that of Madiba himself.

In an interview for the US launch of Being Mandela in February, granddaughter Swati Dlamini revealed the most about what the elder statesman might think of all the fighting.

“Our grandfather always told us that he belongs to the country and he’s of service to the country and he doesn’t belong to us as a family,” she said. “And that’s the sacrifice he’s made for the country and that’s what he’s told us as far as I can remember.”

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