Rebranding Mandla Mandela

2014-06-01 15:00

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Mandla Mandela has hired a publicist to help improve his image as “the official face of the Mandela brand”.

Sisanda Gqirana said she and Mandela, the grandson of late former president Nelson Mandela, “want to rebrand and rewrite his story”.

“We acknowledge his mistakes. We are working together with him to profile and show the good things he is doing for people. All he wants is to continue his grandfather’s legacy. There is a lot on his shoulders,” said Gqirana.

Her job was off to a tough start this week, as her client spent Monday and Tuesday in the dock of the Mthatha Regional Court on charges of assault and pointing a firearm.

Just days before facing his accuser, Mthatha teacher Mlamli Ngudle, Mandela had been on France’s south coast, rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s most famous actors and directors at the Cannes Film Festival.

He collected an award on his late grandfather’s behalf and was hosted by Joseph Jackson, the father to the late king of pop, Michael Jackson.

He also attended a gala dinner hosted by Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco.

But he swapped his tux for a sober dark suit to listen to Ngudle accuse him of a vicious assault last October. Ngudle had to undergo surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain.

On Wednesday, the trial had to be postponed to October 15 after a key state witness mysteriously disappeared. The witness had been in court that morning, but could not be found in the afternoon when it was his turn to testify.

For now, it’s back to work for the Mvezo chief, who is known by his praise name Zwelivelile. The 39-year-old was, on May 21, sworn in for a second term as a member of Parliament shortly before he flew to Cannes.

Mandela confirmed this week Gqirana was the “go-to guy” as far as his public life was concerned. The publicist said she had been friends with the chief “for many years”.

“After the passing of his grandfather, we spoke about the possibility of me coming on board as his manager and publicist. We then formalised that at the beginning of this year.”

According to Gqirana, Mandela has been misunderstood and placed under undue pressure by being compared to his famous grandfather. “He is very concerned about the negative perceptions out there and how he is being portrayed in the media. At times you can see he is disappointed and wants to give up because of the way people perceive him.

“He is a human being too and has feelings too. At times he does lose his temper, as all people do. All we want is for people to give him the benefit of the doubt,” said Gqirana.

“Look, the plan is to change people’s perception of him. Here is a man who is doing so much that is good but all we hear are the negative stories.”

Those negative stories are well publicised.

Last June, he was taken to court by 16 members of his own family for digging up the remains of three Mandelas in Qunu and reburying them in Mvezo without the family’s knowledge.

He’s also been embroiled in a bitter divorce battle with his estranged first wife, Thando Mabunu-Mandela, who opened bigamy charges against him after he married two more women despite being legally married to her.

He’s at odds with many in his family, including younger brothers Ndaba and Mbuso. He accused Mbuso of impregnating another of his estranged wives, Anais Grimaud.

The battles continue beyond the bedroom: he’s been in a long-standing public spat with abaThembu king Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, who accuses Mandela of trying to dethrone him.

But on the flip side, says Gqirana, there are good stories.

Mandela is well respected in Mvezo and some villagers were in court to support him this week. Among the projects he’s been involved with around Mvezo are:

» A science and technology school, initiated by his late grandfather in 2010 and which opened earlier this year;

» The construction of the R120?million bridge and road that links Mvezo to the N2;

» The building of the Nolusapho early childhood development centre at a cost of R5?million; and

» The ongoing construction of a R30?million primary school with the help of Chinese investors.

This weekend, he’s launching the annual June 16 tournament, in which 32 soccer and netball teams take part in a monthlong competition.

He’s also set to celebrate his birthday this month and what would have been his grandfather’s 96th birthday in July by opening a cinema in his village. But first, the jet-setting, controversial chief is off to Brazil to attend the 2014 Fifa World Cup.

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