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Mandela: The ‘Family’ Showdown

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Mandela: The ‘Family’ Showdown

A precursor of what will happen when the inevitable finally happens, is now being seen even as a frail Nelson Mandela soldiers on. With his role as a unifier, the irony is that the battle over Mandela’s legacy has developed into a multi- faceted campaign between factions, or, if you want the “Mandela Family”, comprising the African National Congress (ANC), the various foundations and charities he set up after his retirement in 1999, as well as political comrades and business associates with whom he forged relations over many years, and, of course, his biological family. In the past few years there has been a tug of war and angry words among the “factions”, and even within the biological family itself, there are deep divisions with respect to who has first rights to his legacy. Welcome to Mandela’s final showdown. 

Last December, a twitter message went around, announcing the passing of the world’s most beloved grandfather and leader. Then followed, a month later, frenzied reports of his hospitalisation. Family, friends and the media besieged the Milpark Hospi­tal in Johannesburg, just in case. It was not to be. Perhaps the Old Man would prefer to go quietly. The drama of his hospitalisation brought into sharp focus the inevitable, and what will transpire afterwards. Who is present when he passes was very important. Which media would get the gold medal for being the first to tell the world was something to die for.

Now, with reports of his very frail state making the rounds again, it may not be very long before he makes his long walk into the unknown. It could be sudden. When gone, South Af­rica, Africa, and the world will be left the poorer, to ponder his massive legacy.

Mandela will be 93 years old on 18 July 2011. Very few people in history have captured the world’s imagination like he has, warts and all. He has stared the world’s moral bankruptcy in the face and won, in the process inspiring many.

“Resentment,” he says, “is like drinking poison, and expecting it to kill your enemy.” So he forgave those who had incarcerated him and taken away 27 years of his life. That has been what has largely defined the man. A “terrorist” turned saint, who embraced his enemies and tried to bridge a racial divide. It is work still in progress. He reminds the world of a common humanity that has often been forgotten in the pursuit of personal and group interests, defined by race, ethnicity, colour, creed, sexual orienta­tion, religion, geography, language and all the factionalism that plagues the earth.

He has his faults, but here is a man who has striven relentlessly towards the ideal of a common humanity — to the extent where it is almost blasphemy to cast stones at him or hint at his mortality, morality or both. Such is his magic – what is popularly known as the Madiba magic (Madiba is his clan name). “I am not a saint,” Madiba insists, “unless you want to say a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.”

Last year, a painting of the cadaver of the great man, on a coroner’s table, with Mahatma Ghandi and others looking on, met with an angry reaction in South Africa. It was called unAfrican, in that it was like wishing him dead, a thought too ghastly to contemplate. It has been reported that the right to broadcast his funeral was sold long ago for the sum of R31T1 (300,000 Euros) to the South African Broadcasting Corporation. But this has been vehemently denied by Mandela’s grandson, Chief Man- dla Mandela, who has stepped into Mandela’s shoes as chief of the Mvezo traditional area. He has thus assumed the mantle of leader and spokesman for the Mandela family. However, those close to the Old Man have been preparing for the inevitable, to the extent where fashion designers have been kept busy. Already there is intense positioning to cash in on his immense legacy. The players are many, eyeing the political and economic pickings that go with a global brand worth millions of dollars.

Five years ago, an unsavoury legal battle raged between the Old Man and his once trusted lawyer, Ismael Ayob, a dress rehearsal of what is yet to come. In a long-running dispute, Ayob, who acted for Mandela when he was in jail on Robben Island, and businessman Ross Calder allegedly cashed in on unauthorised copies of art bearing Mandela’s signature.

The Old Man went to court to stop them from selling the artwork and demanded they account for large sums of money collected through sales. “All the money went to the family,” Ayob asserted, referring to the Mandela Trust, a private fund admin­istered by Mandela’s children.

Given Mandela’s role as a unifier, the irony is that the bat­tle over his legacy has developed into a multi-faceted campaign between factions. And the factions, which could be stretched to mean “Family” (in quotation marks) are many. They range from the African National Congress (ANC), the liberation movement and now party to which he dedicated most of his life, the various foundations and charities he set up after his retirement in 1999, as well as political comrades and business associates with whom he forged relations over many years, especially the Robben Island graduates, and his biological family.

As the campaign over his legacy heats up, his large extended family from his three marriages have sought to set the record straight. There is the family of his first wife, Evelyn Mase, who carried him in his developmental stage. Then that of Winnie Mandela during the hard knocks of his political mid-life. And finally, Graca Machel, ex-wife of the deceased ex-president of Mozambique, Samora Machel, who has been by his side dur­ing his twilight years. The children, grandchildren, and great­grandchildren all proudly bear Mandela’s name, irrespective of who their fathers are.

The past few years have been made up of a tug of war and angry words among the ANC, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and the Biological Family with Chief Mandla Mandela acting as the spokesperson. Within the Biological Family itself, there are deep divisions with respect to who has first rights to his legacy.

Last year, there was a glittering launch of the exclusive House of Mandela Wines at a plush hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg. It was a “First Family” affair (ie, conducted by Dr Makaziwe Mandela, the sole surviving child from Mandela’s union with Evelyn Mase, his first wife). The grandson from that lineage, Chief Mandla Mandela, was in attendance. The wine launch asserted who was in charge of the Mandela Family, and the brand. Well-heeled in­vitees snapped up the wines, as an investment when Mandela dies.

A recent bizarre incident of politicking occurred with the case of Julius Malema, the president of the ANC Youth League. Campaigning in local government elections set for 18 May, he told voters that if they do not vote for the ANC, it would af­fect the health of the Old Man, suggesting that they would be contributing to Mandela’s demise.

Previously, in the run-up to the last presidential elections in 2009, Mandela, in a very frail condition, was bundled into a pri­vate aircraft and wheeled to an ANC rally in the Eastern Cape. Big Brother ANC needed his blessings. This led to an angry war of words among the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the ANC, and the Biological Family.

Sometimes the combative Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has weighed in. At a pre-Fifa World Cup 2010 rally in Johannesburg, she quoted Mandla Mandela: “As a family, we are united in that the legacy of Madiba belongs to his family first and to the ANC.” Despite their divorce and its acrimonious personal and political fallout at the time, Winnie carried a message on behalf of “Tata” [father], and told the crowd that Tata wanted the trophy to stay in Africa. Mandla Mandela has been hard at work in the protec­tion of the family name. He has been at the centre of a bitter feud with the Nelson Mandela Museum over plans to protect the Old

Man’s birthplace as a heritage site and accused it – along with the Mandela Aids Project, 46664, named after his prison number — of “benefiting and profiting from my grandfather’s name”.

“They give nothing to his people,” Mandla claimed. “Mandela’s people are dying here [in Mvezo] from Aids, yet 46664 have done nothing here.” He has a point.

When Mandela dies, of great concern is any fallout there may be from potentially acrimonious battles among the factions. This will be reminiscent of the ongoing war over the legacy of another black icon, Martin Luther King, more than 40 years after his death.

Is there a Will? Apparently there have been a few of them drawn up over the years, but changed from time to time to reflect chang­ing circumstances. A final one will be even more contentious, as age has incrementally and naturally taken a toll on his mind. The hope is that, somehow, there will be a resolution, and that his death will not spawn undignified court battles over his legacy.

When the inevitable happens

Ultimately, when Mandela dies, his legacy will be interpreted through political lenses. Politics defined him, and thus his brand will be moral politics. In South Africa where he sacrificed a life to liberate his people and steer them to a yet unrealised promised land, he is a defining figure revered by both blacks and whites. The politics he left behind has however taken a turn for the worse.

He delivered a political kingdom and not an economic one. That was not his promise. So economic apartheid reigns supreme, where the overwhelming number of blacks he helped liberate are yet to see the milk and honey, with the exception of a few elitist managers of the political kingdom who have immorally cashed in.

Previous white managers of the politico/economic kingdom are no different, except theirs has been racial capitalism. In the new dispensation, they have become the defenders of white privilege, and forged relations with the new political powers to entrench that privilege. No wonder 95% of the economy remains in 11% of white hands. The heirs of Mandela’s political liberation now drink white champagne they do not produce, wear imported Guccis and eat sushi.

Now the legacy of Mandela’s politics is fast becoming money, where people go into politics to open up economic opportunities that will enrich fam ily and friends.

Dissatisfaction with the status quo on the part of the down­trodden has expressed itself at the municipal level in service de­livery protests mixed with xenophobia which have often turned very violent. In a recent protest in a town called Ficksburg in mid-April, a protester was beaten to death, allegedly by the po­lice. A few such incidents would definitely spark a Tunisian-style revolution so feared by the elite here.

Meanwhile, it is election time for local government, and poli­ticians in luxury German cars travel the land in their desperate attempt to entrench their political and economic power for fam­ily and friends. After the election, they will disappear from the squatter camps

In Africa

On the African continent, Mandela, though revered, will not be known the way Kwame Nkrumah, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere or even Bob Marley are. His Pan-African credentials are nebulous. That mantle has been taken by his successor Thabo Mbeki. As president, Mandela was overly consumed with build­ing a new non-racial South Africa, bridging a black/white divide, and as a result he had less time for African affairs.

When he once tried to intervene in Nigeria, the infamous General Sanni Abacha, then leader of the country, reminded him of his place on the continent, and the huge sacrifices Africa and Nigeria had made in liberating South Africa. Abacha cancelled the participation of the Nigerian national football team in the landmark 1996 African Cup of Nations tournament that took place in South Africa. Nigeria were the defending champions! It was a slap in the face which Mandela never recovered from.

It is on the international front outside Africa that Mandela has made the most impact. His practical forgiveness of white South Africa and his reconciliation project has played well in the consciousness of the Western establishment. To them, Mandela is a saint.

Ultimately, his legacy to the world is encoded in the African philosophy of Ubuntu, with its idea of a shared humanity of all human beings and races. It will be about lessons in transcending the pettiness of men and nations. A lesson on how to rise above the stupidities that infect the earth, and live together as one. He lived it.

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