Newsmaker – Makaziwe Mandela: The family matriarch

2013-06-30 14:00

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Mandela’s eldest living child appears to have assumed leadership of the first family.

She was once in the wings, but now former president Nelson Mandela’s eldest daughter Makaziwe has taken centre stage.

This week, she showed her fire as the only family member of the former president to conduct TV interviews – on CNN and SABC news.

In an interview on the national broadcaster, she accused foreign journalists camped outside the Pretoria hospital where her father is being treated, of displaying a “racist element”.

She likened them to “vultures waiting when the lion has devoured the buffalo, waiting there for the last carcass”.

And on CNN, she demanded that the “world?.?.?.?back off and leave us alone” during this “sacred time”.

Mandela’s 59-year-old eldest living child appears to have assumed leadership of the fractured first family, ahead of her stepmother Graça; sisters Zenani and Zindzi; the daughters of her stepmother Winnie; and her nephew Mandla, the chief of Mvezo.

Makaziwe – who has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts and who sits on the boards of several companies including Nestlé and Enviroserve – is the only remaining child of Mandela and his first wife, Evelyn Mase.

The woman, affectionately called Maki, was born in Orlando West and was the third child of her parents.

She was named after her sister, who was under a year old when she died.

Her parents divorced when she was three and she moved with her mother to Orlando East.

She was 10 years old when her father was jailed on Robben Island and she did not see him again until she turned 16 because of prison rules, which stipulated that she should be in possession of an identity book to make visits.

She attended the famous Waterford Kamhlaba boarding school in Swaziland where she matriculated, and from there she studied at the University of Fort Hare in Alice, in the then Ciskei homeland.

She qualified as a social worker and went on to practice in the Centane district of the former Transkei.

She married her first husband, Camagu, in the early 1970s and had her first two children with him, Tukwini and Dumani.

They later divorced and she married Ghanaian teacher Isaac Kwame Amuah in the Transkei in the 1980s.

In 1985, she obtained a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to the US, where she studied for her masters and doctorate degrees in anthropology at the University of Massachusetts.

Although she paid her father annual visits in prison, she reunited with him as a free man during his tour of the US in 1990.

Controversy has dogged her marriage in recent years after US authorities asked for Amuah to be extradited to face charges of raping a student in 1993 while he was a lecturer in that country.

Amuah has maintained his innocence and the Randburg Magistrates’ Court rejected the extradition application.

Although Makaziwe has now assumed control of many of the family’s affairs, and has been seen in and out of hospital visiting her father, she has not always displayed such a keen sense of family.

In a tell-all interview with Britain’s Daily Mail tabloid in 2010, she bitterly lamented her lack of a “daughter-father” relationship and revealed that she didn’t know whether her father loved her at all.

“He’s always been an absent dad. Of course there are moments when I’ve been sitting on the couch with him and given him a hug and said ‘I love you, dad’, but he is a politician and that’s where his energy has always been, in politics and not his family,” she reportedly said.

“Children must learn to accept that sometimes they are not really loved by their parents. I used to feel angry and bitter about it, but now I feel sad for my brothers (Thembekile and Makgatho), who never had the time to come to terms with dad for what he is.

“I can honestly say that I’m at peace with myself these days. And I’m at peace with him. I truly am.”

But peace with others has been more elusive.

Two months ago, she locked horns with President Jacob Zuma over his decision to bring TV cameras into her father’s Houghton home.

She told the UK’s Daily Telegraph that airing that footage was in “bad taste”.

Recently, she was at the receiving end of much public criticism for announcing the launch of a range of wines called House of Mandela in the US.

Critics have accused her of abusing Mandela’s name, image and legacy to line her pockets.

Makaziwe’s two TV interviews were the only ones she was going to grant this week.

When City Press approached her for an interview, she politely declined, saying she was “not in a good space”.

A family friend says the “feisty but humble woman” is “very serious, like her father”.

“You can see Mandela in her body language when she speaks. She has probably told herself that in tata’s twilight, she must take control so that he goes with dignity”.

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