Mandela Family Disputes Mar His Legacy

As Nelson Mandela lies in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital, his family is cashing in on his legacy and fighting over custodianship of his brand and assets worth millions of dollars.

One of his daughters and three of his grandchildren are using the former South African president’s name in such pursuits as wine marketing and a reality television show, “Being Mandela.” His relatives also were embroiled in two lawsuits to secure control over his trust funds and the burial places of the remains of three of his children.

Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu says the feud is almost like spitting in Mandela’s face, while Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the country’s largest labor union grouping, says there couldn’t be a worse insult to his legacy. South African media mock the fuss with cartoons such as one entitled “Squabble, the Mandela Family Game.”

“It’s all about money,” Keith Gottschalk, a politics lecturer at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, said in a phone interview. “Some of Mandela’s relatives have tarnished their reputations and shown themselves as being greedy.”

Mandela, 94, has been revered as a global icon since he emerged from 27 years in jail to shepherd South Africa from white-minority rule to democracy and served a single term as president following multiracial elections in 1994. After retiring in 1999, he raised tens of millions of dollars for charity. The revenue came from a clothing line called 46664 -- his prison number, commemorative coins, books and concerts.

Lung Infection

He has been hospitalized since June 8. President Jacob Zuma’s office says he is in critical yet stable condition and is responding to treatment for a lung infection. Mandela last made a public appearance in 2010.

Mandela’s condition improved significantly over the weekend, making it possible he’ll be discharged from the hospital this week, the Johannesburg-based New Age newspaper reported today, citing his grandson Mbuso Mandela.

Mandela’s state pension has been supplemented by revenue from his best-selling 1994 autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” and charcoal sketches and watercolors he made of Robben Island, where he was imprisoned for 18 years. The pieces of artwork each sold for several thousand dollars, with buyers including talk show host Oprah Winfrey and retailer Woolworths Holdings Ltd.

Long Walk

“There are very few people who have not heard of Mandela and almost without exception he is revered,” Roger Sinclair, a former marketing professor and consultant to Prophet Brand Strategy, said in a phone interview from Cape Town. “There is absolutely no doubt that if you take Nelson Mandela’s name and image and you put that onto something that you sell, you are able to sell it at a premium. Clearly millions will be made.”

Mandela’s granddaughters, Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini, have a clothing line called “Long Walk to Freedom.” Its website says it brings “a touch of Madiba Magic” to clothing, using Mandela’s clan name. They also star in Cozi TV’s “Being Mandela” reality show, which provides a window on the family’s life.

Mandela’s daughter, Makaziwe, and her daughter, Tukwini, sell wine under the “House of Mandela” label, which displays the family tree on its website.

Family Name

Mandela’s relatives deny tarnishing the family name.

“Our grandparents have always said you know this is our name too and we can do what we think is best for the name as long as we treat it with respect and integrity,” Swati Dlamini said in a YouTube video clip to promote the reality show. “That’s what we think we are doing. They are very supportive of what we do.”

In April, Makaziwe and her half-sister, Zenani Dlamini, filed a lawsuit seeking to remove their father’s lawyers, George Bizos and Bally Chuene, and former Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale as directors of two companies he set up. The daughters argued that they were not properly appointed.

The three denied the allegation, saying that Makaziwe and Zenani were acting in bad faith and seeking to access Mandela’s money, contrary to his instructions. The former president made it clear to his daughters in 2005 that he didn’t want them to control his affairs, Chuene wrote in his answering affidavit in the case.

Artwork Sales

Mandela’s daughters were represented by lawyer Ismail Ayob, whom the former president fired and sued in May 2005 for failing to properly account for sales of his artwork. Ayob denied any wrongdoing, saying in court papers that Mandela was forgetful and behaved irrationally.

Mandla Mandela, the former president’s grandson, declined to join the lawsuit, saying he wasn’t prepared to become involved in a squabble over family money.

Mandla found himself on the receiving end of family litigation this month when Makaziwe and several relatives won the exhumation and return of the remains of three of Mandela’s children. Mandla had moved them in 2011 from Qunu, where Mandela has a home, to the nearby village of Mvezo, where Mandla is chief and his grandfather was born.

The day after the remains were returned, Tutu, one of South Africa’s most revered public figures and winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in fighting apartheid, said in an e-mailed statement: “Please, please, please may we think not only of ourselves. Your anguish now is the nation’s anguish, and the world’s. It’s almost like spitting in Madiba’s face.”

Childhood Home

Makaziwe didn’t respond to a text message or answer calls to her mobile phone. Mandla was not commenting on the court case or family rift, his spokesman, Freddy Pilusa, said by phone.

Mandla has spearheaded the development of a museum and youth hostel at Mvezo, and having Mandela’s children buried there would help attract visitors and create jobs for his subjects. In Qunu, Mandela’s childhood home, a museum and conference center have been built.

The Mandela family rift may stem from its size and the fact that Mandela was absent for much of the time that his children and grandchildren were growing up, said Tawana Kupe, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Mandela, married three times, had six children, 17 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren. Evelyn, his first wife, both of his sons, one of his daughters and two of his great-grandchildren have died.

“It may be that his relatives don’t know each other very well and they haven’t developed the kind of relations that would mitigate against the kind of strife that we see today,” Kupe said in a phone interview from Johannesburg.

Mandela acknowledged that he failed to meet his obligations to his family.

“My commitment to my people, to the millions of South Africans I would never know or meet, was at the expense of the people I knew best and loved most,” he wrote in “Long Walk to Freedom.” “My family has paid a terrible price, perhaps too dear a price for my commitment.”

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