JOHANNESBURG — A satirical cartoon titled “Squabble” by Zapiro, South Africa’s most prominent cartoonist, was typically cutting. It showed the face of Nelson Mandela, the revered former president, attached to a torso in the mold of a Scrabble board with the words “greed” and “defiles” interconnected with “icon” and “legacy.” Alongside them were men and women arguing beneath the subheading “The Mandela family game.”
The cartoon, published this month, tapped into concerns that an unseemly battle could break out over the anti-apartheid icon’s estate as a frail Mandela approaches his 95th birthday. This month, two of Mandela’s daughters — Makaziwe and Zenani — applied to a court to have George Bizos, a lawyer friend of the former president, and two others removed from the board of Mandela-linked companies.
In doing so, they reignited a debate about the use and commercialization of the Mandela brand, amid criticisms that family members have been milking Mandela’s iconic status for their own enrichment.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Makaziwe Mandela, the sole surviving child of the first of Mandela’s three wives, was unrepentant.
“This is not a battle about the Mandela estate . . . the children are all on one side,” she said. “We haven’t stolen anybody’s money; we haven’t committed fraud in getting tenders in an unscrupulous way. This is what we are, in a sense, entitled to, that my father worked for, and he did it with his own hands to create something for the welfare and upkeep of himself and his children.”
The two companies at the heart of the latest legal action — Harmonieux Investment Holdings and Magnifique Investment Holdings — were set up to handle royalties from the sale of the statesman’s artwork. They have been dormant since the dispute began in 2004 but hold about 20 million rand ($2.2 million). The family had wanted to wind up or resuscitate the companies and distribute some of the funds equally among the families of Mandela’s five children, according to Makaziwe Mandela. A figure of 2 million rand ($216,000) each was suggested, with the rest going into one of the statesman’s accounts, she said.
Bizos said: “The attempt by Maki [Makaziwe] to be the distributor of the funds to certain members of the family is contrary to provisions of the trust.” He added: “I have been accused of insulting Mr. Mandela by my actions, by the granddaughter of Mr. Mandela. . . . I wish to say that I respect Mr. Mandela and will carry out his wishes.”
He also questioned the sisters’ decision to use Ismail Ayob, whom Mandela took legal action against during the earlier dispute, as their lawyer. “I think that their association with Mr. Ayob should be reexamined by them before they make accusations against the trustees,” Bizos said.
Mandela’s children and grandchildren have previously been deemed to be commercializing the family name. Two grandchildren, Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini, are currently appearing in a U.S. reality show called “Being Mandela.” They are also involved in a clothing company called Long Walk to Freedom — the title of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. Makaziwe, meanwhile, recently launched a wine business called House of Mandela. She insists the name relates to the Mandela ancestry, not simply her father, adding that when the company turns a profit, between 5 percent and 20 percent of the proceeds will go to charity.
The criticisms of her and her relatives were hypocritical, she said. “You go to Sandton [in Johannesburg] to the curio shops — they sell glasses with Mandela, they sell blankets with Nelson Mandela’s face . . . nobody has ever described those people as greedy. It’s only us children of Nelson Mandela who are prevented, for what reason?
“Ask yourself if everybody wants a little bit of the Madiba [Mandela’s clan name] magic, why is it so sacrilegious for the rightful owners . . . to use the Madiba magic?”
Throughout South Africa, Nelson Mandela is lauded as a national treasure whose legacy is virtually untouchable. But that has not stopped people — in South Africa and beyond — attempting to cash in on his brand, while politicians invoke his name and legacy to bolster their credentials.
The guardian of Mandela image rights is considered to be the Nelson Mandela Foundation, his charity, which has its own clothing line. But Sello Hatang, a spokesman for the foundation, said it does not get involved in private family matters. “It would be arrogant of us to assume that we can tell a Mandela how to use their name — it’s their name,” he said.
Makaziwe Mandela was defiant. “I made my choice a long time ago that I’m going to live my life the best way I know how, not dictated by other people, public opinion or whatever, but decide what makes me happy,” she said.
— Financial Times