South Africans express disgust as Mandela family members cash in on icon’s name

JOHANNESBURG — The Globe and Mail

Nelson Mandela's grandchildren, Swati Mandela-Dlamini and Zaziwe Manaway pose with shirts from their range "Long Walk to Freedom Clothing" on July 11, 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The range of Madiba-linked T-shirts will be sold on the internet. (Gallo Images/Getty Images)

A flurry of money-making ventures by Nelson Mandela’s family members, including a reality TV show and a series of machine-autographed Mandela artworks, are sparking revulsion among many South Africans as their anti-apartheid hero falls into increasingly frail health.

The commercial enterprises by Mr. Mandela’s children and grandchildren range from a wine label and a fashion business to a set of Mandela handprints with his signature affixed by a machine. But there are fears that the lure of money could split the family and drag the Mandela name into disrepute.

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The artworks and their estimated $2.8-million in royalty revenue are already embroiled in a legal dispute, with two Mandela daughters seeking to wrest control of the companies controlling the revenue. With their 94-year-old father so weak that he has needed hospital treatment twice in the past four months, the daughters should not be squabbling so blatantly over the money, South African media commentators say.

In his latest medical scare, Mr. Mandela was treated for a recurring lung infection and pneumonia this month. His memory is said to be fading, and he sometimes forgets that some of his anti-apartheid comrades are dead, so he is no position to settle the disputes over the money.

The income generated by the Mandela name could be lucrative and substantial. Some experts believe that the Nelson Mandela name and image is among the world’s best-recognized brands, rivalling Coca-Cola.

“Many of his children and grandchildren have begun circling Mandela’s purported wealth, each avariciously determined to extract financial gain,” said an editorial in the Sunday Times, one of the biggest-selling newspapers in the country.

The editorial, headlined “Greedy hands in the Mandela cookie jar,” added: “The open bickering in the Mandela family is shameful, given the frailty of the former president. … It is downright embarrassing to witness how a man to whom this country owes an untold debt and who is known as the father of our nation is being torn apart by those closest to him.”

A cartoon by South Africa’s leading cartoonist, Zapiro, portrays the family members fighting over the unconscious body of Mr. Mandela, playing “Squabble – the Mandela Family Game.”

The legal battle over the artworks is seen as especially unseemly because it pits the two daughters – Makaziwe Mandela and Zenani Dlamini – against one of Nelson Mandela’s closest friends and comrades, lawyer George Bizos, who defended Mr. Mandela against a potential death penalty in the famed Rivonia trial of 1963 and 1964.

The daughters want to remove Mr. Bizos and two other trustees from the two companies that control the Mandela artworks and their royalties. If they win the battle, they would gain control of revenue and would reportedly also win control of the machine that replicates Mr. Mandela’s handprints and signature, allowing them to generate more money from the prints. The latest court action is part of a bitter feud over the artworks that began in 2004.

Makaziwe Mandela, the eldest daughter of Mr. Mandela, precipitated the legal clash by asking for $1.4-million from the two companies without specifying any purpose for the money, which contravenes the rules of the trust, according to a report on Monday in the Star, a Johannesburg daily.

Meanwhile, other Mandela family members have been trying to capitalize on Mr. Mandela’s 95th birthday, on July 18, by promoting a boxing tournament at a casino in Monaco. Two of Mr. Mandela’s grandsons, Ndaba and Kweku, were seeking to organize the boxing tournament, but it appears to have fallen through.

Other birthday events – including a soccer match and a gala concert at a 95,000-seat stadium – are still being planned. These events are “the latest in a string of money-making enterprises by members of the Mandela family,” the Sunday Times reported.

Another commercial venture is a 13-episode reality television show, called Being Mandela, which is running on an NBC cable channel in the United States. It features two Mandela granddaughters, Swati Dlamini and Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway, as they flaunt their flamboyant lifestyle at Cape Town’s beaches and Johannesburg’s luxury malls.

The reality show also features the granddaughters promoting their clothing label, called Long Walk to Freedom (the name of Mr. Mandela’s famous autobiography). Most of the clothes are T-shirts carrying Mr. Mandela’s portrait.

Makaziwe Mandela, one of the daughters embroiled in the court action over the Mandela artworks, is also the founder of a wine label called House of Mandela. The wine business has sparked criticism from some Mandela family members, who feel that the family name should not be associated with the promotion of alcohol.

Another dispute has flared over control of Mr. Mandela’s birthplace, the village of Mvezo. His grandson, Mandla, has been appointed the village chief and is creating a tourism business, centred on a replica of the tiny home where Mr. Mandela was born. His decision to tear down the remains of the original home and replace it with a replica was criticized by historians.

Nelson Mandela has married three times, most famously to the firebrand activist Winnie, whom he divorced in 1996.

Three of his six children have died. He has 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

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