Rift over Mandela companies deepens

2013-04-17 15:54

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A granddaughter of Nelson Mandela has harshly criticised a longtime associate of the former president and anti-apartheid leader, in an escalation of a dispute over funds linked to one of the world’s most revered figures.

Tukwini Mandela accused lawyer George Bizos of insulting her mother, slandering the Mandela family name and spreading “blatant lies and innuendo” in a bitter rift over control of two companies linked to 94-year-old Mandela.

The main purpose of the companies is to channel funds from the sale of handprint artwork by Mandela for the benefit of his family.

“Please have the decency to behave as an elder if you care for my grandfather and his name, which catapulted you into undeserved stardom,” Tukwini Mandela wrote in an open letter that was emailed to The Associated Press yesterday.

She urged Bizos, a stalwart of the struggle for equal rights in South Africa, to act in a manner “befitting of your status” in society.

The disagreement comes as Nelson Mandela, who last appeared in public in 2010, receives medical care at his Johannesburg home after several hospital visits in recent months.

Makaziwe Mandela, Tukwini’s mother, and Makaziwe’s sister Zenani have launched a court case against Bizos and two other associates of Nelson Mandela, alleging they should not remain directors of Harmonieux Investment Holdings and Magnifique Investment Holdings, because they were not properly appointed.

The case also alleges that the trio has neglected its duties at the helm of the companies.

Earlier this week, The Star quoted 84-year-old Bizos, who defended Mandela during the apartheid years, as saying Makaziwe Mandela’s goal was to take some company money, estimated to be R12 million, without providing details of how it would be used.

“This woman wanted to take over the money, not for any specific purpose, and distribute it to members of the family,” he said. “That is contrary to the provisions of the trust. Therefore, we refused to give her the money.”

The AP telephoned Bizos’ office and home to seek a response to Tukwini Mandela’s letter, but was told that he was away on legal work. Bizos does not carry a cell phone.

Norton Rose, a Johannesburg law firm representing Bizos in the dispute with Mandela’s daughters, declined to comment on the letter, saying, in a statement, that Bizos’ position will be outlined in papers likely to be filed in court in mid-May.

In an interview last week with Talk Radio 702, Norton Rose director Michael Hart said Nelson Mandela gave “explicit instructions” for Bizos and two associates, lawyer Bally Chuene and businessman and politician Tokyo Sexwale, to oversee the disputed companies.

They have done so “without any charge or remuneration”, he said.

In the letter, Tukwini Mandela said her mother is a “highly educated and accomplished businesswoman in her own right” and that Bizos’ reported comments showed a lack of respect for Nelson Mandela and his advocacy on behalf of women.

“I doubt you would ever refer to the women in your life as ‘this woman’,” Tukwini Mandela wrote.

“You and your peddlers of falsehood have spent the whole of last week casting aspersions on my family, spreading blatant lies and innuendo, hoping that a trial through the media will deter us from defending our name and legacy,” she wrote.

Tukwini Mandela is the marketing director of House of Mandela, a wine making company. Two other granddaughters of Mandela are starring in a US television reality show titled Being Mandela.

Bizos, who was born in Greece, defended Mandela during the Rivonia trial in the 1960s that led to the ANC leader’s conviction on sabotage charges and a sentence of life imprisonment.

Bizos works at the Legal Resources Centre, a human rights group. He has recently cross-examined national police commissioner Riah Phiyega and other witnesses before the Marikana commission investigating the deaths of 34 striking miners by police last year.

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