Mandela grandson registers ‘Mandela 95th Birthday’ company

2013-07-07 10:00

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The question as to whether Mandela signed away rights to his name remains unanswered

While Nelson Mandela’s eldest daughter denies the family is scrambling to cash in on his legacy, his grandchildren are looking to benefit from his birthday this month.

The former president’s grandson, Zondwa, registered a company called “Mandela 95th Birthday” last October, months after serious concerns were first expressed about the state of the former president’s health.

The company’s purpose is unclear.

In an interview appearing in this month’s edition of New African magazine, Mandela’s daughter, Makaziwe, said stories of the family cashing in were the fault of a “media with an agenda”.

“Nothing can be further from the truth,” she was quoted as saying.

But Zondwa’s latest business venture appears to place him in a favourable position ahead of Mandela’s 95th birthday on July 18.

News of the company emerged as Mandela’s eldest grandson, Mandla, lashed out at family members this week, accusing them of “squabbling” over Madiba’s wealth.

This week’s court battle over the graves of Mandela’s three late children has led to much speculation about why Mandla wanted them to remain in Mvezo.

One of Mandela’s oldest friends, Denis Goldberg, told City Press exclusively this week: “The unsavoury aspect to me over the fight about where Mandela will be buried seems to me to be about tourism rights.”

Zondwa this week asked City Press to email him questions regarding the purpose of his company, but he did not respond. City Press also visited the registered address of the company – a law firm in Fordsburg, Joburg, where staff said they knew nothing about it.

On the same day Zondwa registered the company, he also registered another one under the name “Mandela IS”. His cousin, Ndaba, has launched a social networking site called Mandela.is with an American entrepreneur, focusing on the celebrations.

The site was active this week, taking registrations from users, with Ndaba posting motivational messages about his grandfather.

Ndaba failed to respond to text messages and telephone calls about the social network.

Mandela’s trademark and the use of his name is aggressively protected by his foundation following a court case in 2005, in which Mandela accused his former attorney Ismael Ayob of duping him into signing away the rights to his name.

Nelson Mandela Foundation chief executive Sello Hatang said they were aware of Ndaba and Zondwa’s website, but were not involved.

These developments join those of other Mandela family members who, over the past two years, have launched enterprises to directly cash in on the Mandela name, including a clothing line and a wine range.

Daughters Makaziwe and Zenani may also soon try to enforce a contract their father signed with a company called Tinancier, which they control, giving it commercial rights to Mandela’s name.

Mandela’s dispute with Tinancier sparked the 2005 court battle.

Earlier this year, Makaziwe and Zenani, represented by Ayob, brought a court application to have human rights lawyer George Bizos, Mandela’s lawyer Bally Chuene and Cabinet minister Tokyo Sexwale removed as directors of two key companies in the family empire.

The companies, Harmonieux and Magnifique, were established to receive the proceeds – estimated at as much as R40 million – from the sale of Mandela’s handprints.

But the Tinancier deal now also looms large.

In the contract, Mandela signed over rights to his copyright and brand to Tinancier, established by Ayob in 2000, although he has since resigned as a director.

A 2005 court order stopped the trade in the Mandela artworks, pending the resolution of the legality of the Tinancer contract – an issue Ayob claims was never settled and which makes the court order redundant.

The contract, which City Press has obtained, states that Mandela would waive “all moral and legal rights” to the variants of his name to Tinancier. By signing it, the document states, Mandela “delivered” to the company all rights to his name.

In May, Ayob told City Press that he will bring a new application to rescind a court order barring the sale of artworks, and the Tinancier contract remained valid. But Chuene said this week he had not received notice of any impending court action.

Ayob did not respond to calls this week to establish whether the application was under way, and Makaziwe has twice refused to discuss the company with City Press.

But another source with intimate knowledge of the legal moves said the action would come if the Mandelas were successful in their current court case.

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