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Squabble joke to battle for millions

Dec. 6: His signature alone is worth millions. His face is everywhere, from banknotes to church windows. His name sells products — even without any official endorsement — from tacky souvenirs to political histories.

Combine that with a large dysfunctional family and politicians desperate to hang on to power and you have all the ingredients for an inheritance battle worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Indeed, a joke once named the Mandela family game as “squabble”.

The fight over Nelson Mandela’s legacy promises to be as colourful and long-drawn out as his life. It began many years ago and is rooted in a complex mix of his political determination and human frailty.

Mandela had six children, only three of whom are still alive. This has led to 17 grandchildren and 12 surviving great-grandchildren as well as four stepchildren from his marriage to Graca Machel.

His first family — mainly offspring of the four children from his marriage to Evelyn Mase — has always felt mistreated.

After the couple divorced in 1958 and Mandela had moved in with the young Winnie, Evelyn — a nurse whose meagre income had supported her husband during his law studies — resigned from the African National Congress (ANC) through which they had met.

She moved back to the Transkei (now the Eastern Cape), where she supported and educated her children by running a small shop.

Shortly before she died in 2004, Evelyn said: “The ANC ignored me, as though I had never existed. To pay off the loan (for the shop) I worked from 4am until 7pm. All that Nelson contributed was the children’s school fees. He left everything to Winnie when he went to jail.”

Thembi, his firstborn son from that marriage, was killed in a car crash in 1969 when his father was on Robben Island and refused leave to attend the funeral. Makgatho, the second son, went off the rails and died of AIDS in 2005. His first daughter died at 10 months old of meningitis.

Ironically, the only survivor from that marriage, Makaziwe, joined forces last month with Zenani, his first of two daughters with Winnie, in a battle to force his lawyers and associates off the boards of two companies set up to sell a series of paintings Mandela had made with his handprints, one of several commercial ventures devised to raise money for him and his heirs.

The daughters allege that the lawyers George Bizos and Bally Chuene, and the cabinet minister Tokyo Sexwale, have no right to remain as company directors because they were not properly appointed. Chuene, responding on behalf of himself, Bizos and Sexwale, has denied wrongdoing.

The 84-year-old Bizos reportedly said that Makaziwe Mandela’s goal was to take company money, estimated to be 860,000 (around Rs 8.65 crore) and spread it among some of the more impoverished relatives.

In a family statement, all but one of Mandela’s grandchildren said the directors have tried to portray the Mandela family as “insensitive money-grabbers”.

That, however, is how many South Africans perceive them.

Mandela’s office

After his retirement from the presidency, Mandela regularly worked from an office in the recently refurbished Johannesburg building that houses the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. The office includes framed photographs of Mandela in healthier times with his wife, Graca Machel, former UN chief Kofi Annan, fellow activist Walter Sisulu, and others. A boxing glove, cricket bat and a British police helmet are among the gifts on display. Glass cases show penned messages in books given to Mandela from people including Nadine Gordimer, the South African winner of the Nobel literature prize in 1991. Cornel West, an American civil rights activist, addressed his book, Democracy Matters, to “Bro’ Nelson Mandela”.