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Geopolitics

Mandela Family Battle Brewing Over Name, Inheritance

A modernist Mandela statue
A modernist Mandela statue
Sébastien Hervieu

JOHANNESBURG"As long as he's alive, his family members still refrain, but you’ll see when he passes away ...”

Earlier this year, a man close to several of Nelson Mandela’s relatives told Le Monde of his fear that the unity displayed during the moments of reverence around South Africa's global icon of reconciliation, would eventually give way to disputes over the lucrative family inheritance.

These clashes had already begun to surface even before the former president’s death. It was in April when South Africa learned that two of Nelson Mandela’s daughters, Makaziwe and Zenani, had taken court action — backed by 17 members of the family — against the aging leader's friends: his former lawyer, George Bozos, and the former minister for housing, Tokyo Sexwale, who also had spent many years imprisoned on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Verde.

Makaziwe, daughter of Evelyn (Nelson Mandela’s first wife) and Zenani, daughter of Winnie Mandela (his second wife) demanded that the two men resign, along with Nelson Mandela’s lawyer, Bally Chuene, from their positions as administrators for two funds valued at around $1.7 million. These companies had been created to sell watercolors on which the hero’s handprint had been reproduced.

Lack of respect

Backed by Ismail Ayob, one of Nelson Mandela’s former lawyers, whom he'd broken off from in 2004, the heirs accused their father’s friends and associates of having taken control of these funds and refused to provide financial aid to family members. The trio responded that Mandela had appointed them himself.

In a statement that was handed over to a Johannesburg court, the lawyer Bally Chuene says that, in April 2005, the former head of state had summoned his wife Graça Machel, his daughters, as well as George Bizos and Tokyo Sewale, to meet in his Johannesburg home.

During this meeting, Mandela clearly told Makaziwe and Zenani he didn’t want them to meddle with his business, Bally Chuene stated in a text that the South African press made public.

In a testimony that was also handed over to court, Bizos mentions his own concern when he found out in late 2011 about an attempt by family members to distribute almost the entire capital of these trusts among Mandela’s children and grandchildren.

Nelson Mandela’s close personnel feared that the family members were looking to get hold of the wealth to squander it. The grandchildren soon reacted, claiming they were trying to portray them as “insensitive money-grabbers" who lacked any respect for their grandfather.

In July, most of Mandela’s grandchildren did 67 minutes of public service as a tribute to the 67 years during which his served humanity by fighting the domination by the white minority and racial harmony when he finally became president.

At the end of August, both Mandela’s daughters finally decided to drop their judicial action. “They were fully aware of their father’s will, and they eventually understood that we had the necessary elements to prove it,” Bizos told Le Monde.

Mandela’s own personal assets were never disclosed, and the family’s total holdings is also unknown, but its members are believed to have stakes in some 110 companies, according to the Afrikaner newspaper Beeld.

Don't Disney-ize me

Carrying Mandela’s name is an asset. Most of his three children, 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren intend to make the most of this image. “They are part of the Mandelas, they’re allowed to use their name, and now they do it more and more, because they know Madiba can no longer prevent it,” a head of the Mandela Foundation says, using the nickname many South Africans call the now deceased leader. “You can Kennedy-ize my name but not Disney-ize it”, Nelson Mandela allegedly once said.

“Madiba didn’t want his name and image to be commercially exploited. Disagreeing with this inevitably leads to family tensions,” the director adds.

The Foundation aims to prevent such abusive uses: “When the children or grandchildren come to see us to ask for our signature beneath a contract (…), we try to introduce clauses and guarantees.” An eclectic series of projects are still emerging. Makaziwe Mandela commercialized wine called House of Mandela. A clothing line named Long Walk to Freedom, like the former prisoner’s autobiography, was launched. Two granddaughters took part this year in a reality show called “Being Mandela” — the episodes aired only in the U.S.

The Mandela Foundation has not been left behind. In 2011, it started selling polo shirts with the label 46664, Nelson Mandela’s prisoner number at Robben Island. The institution registered more than 60 trademarks such as “Nelson Mandela” or “Madiba” at the World Intellectual Property Organization, to ensure the exclusivity on access rights. Granted, the aim is to hunt down usurpers — but it is also a way of preserving the value of their brands.

Political ends

In July, Mandla Mandela was also in the middle of a different kind of controversy. Members of his family found out that, in Mandela’s childhood village of Qunu, the grandson had exhumed the mortal remains of the former president’s three sons to have them buried in Mvezo, where the hero was born. The grandson is suspected of trying to force the family into having Nelson Mandela’s body buried in the new family tomb, where he is having a large tourist complex built. Following a violent dispute shown on television, the bodies will be reburied in Qunu.

Mandla Mandela does not only reign on this lost corner of South Africa's Eastern Cape. The 39-year-old is also a member of the South African Parliament. At a time when it is losing electoral support, the African National Congress is trying to remain connected to the name “Mandela.” In 2012, Zenani Mandela was appointed South African ambassador in Argentina.

In July 2012, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the controversial second wife, who is also a member of parliament, accused her party of "treating the family in a cavalier way,” and appealing to them only to “use it for political ends.”

Then in April, the ANC was accused of exploiting the image of Nelson Mandela himself, one year away from general elections. A 40-second video showed the former president in his home, in Johannesburg, sitting on a couch with an impassive look on his face. Next to him, President Jacob Zuma and several heads of the ANC were laughing and taking photos of themselves beside the sick and elderly man.

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