Squabble over inheritance: Mandela offspring have field day

2013-04-22 18:51

Death, which proves us to be ephemeral and inconsequential, paradoxically triggers a desire, in those left behind, to clutch at money and possessions even when we know that material goods mean nothing in the end. In some cases we’d give it all up to be able to bring the deceased back to life, even for a little while.

But this knowledge doesn't stop us from behaving badly when it comes to issues of inheritance and we begin scrapping and arguing about who's gonna get what. I’ve done it myself. After my mother died, I argued in the street with my sister over which one of us would walk off with Ouma's hand-crocheted lace tablecloth which neither of us would ever use, it was stained and lelik. We yelled, I pulled her hair. We reverted to the roles of our childhood. ‘You always get to choose first!’ she accused. I countered ‘You were the blue-eyed daughter, you could do no wrong!’.

Most of us fight over paintings, furniture or a favourite piece of jewellery. We weigh up whether the divisions are fair. Imagine the entitlement then, when it comes to the Madiba millions, much held in trust, for which the family are already vying, although not with each other (as far as we know...).

Currently, advocate George Bizos, cabinet minister Tokyo Sexwale and lawyer Bally Chuene, directors of a family trust, are under fire from the family for denying a request by Mandela daughters Makaziwe Mandela and Zenani Dlamini for R12 million which they wanted to distribute among Mandela’s seventeen grandchildren.

This trust protects the royalties generated by the sale of Mandela handprints. It keeps money safe from arbitrary squander by family members who can’t see further than their immediate gratification. As the daughters did not disclose in any detail how the money would be used, the directors, perhaps speculating on whether the bucks might simply get blown on the good life, acted sagely in their refusal.

Granddaughter Tukwini Mandela, using bullying tactics to get Bizos et al to step down as directors, wrote in an open letter to Bizos: ‘Please have the decency to behave as an elder if you care for my grandfather and his name which catapulted you into undeserved stardom.’ She claims Bizos is ‘casting aspersions’ on her family, ‘spreading lies and innuendo, hoping that a trial through the media will deter us from defending our name and legacy’.

Trashing Bizos undermines any case she may have to get her hands on her share of the cash. As one of Mandela’s oldest friends -his supporter, his legal council, by reputation a man of principle- he's always had Nelson Mandela's best interests at heart. So Tukwini comes across as a spoilt child lacking the dignity to at least wait till the after-tears party before making a pitch for Mandela’s money.

Partly the Mandela's graceless behaviour is consistent with human nature - in the face of loss the Mandela clan are 'acting out' as any family might in the face of the passing of a loved one. But of course greed is part of the show.

So much of value is at stake - none more so than the Mandela name itself which the grandchildren have capitalized on to launch their commercial dreams. This distasteful commodification of their grandfather leaves a bad taste. Tukwini markets wine that carries the Mandela name; the reality TV show ‘Being Mandela’ stars Swati Dlamini and Zaziswe Dlamini-Manaway on the jol in Cape Town and Jozi, and showcases the leisure-wear line ‘Long walk to Freedom’; grandsons Ndaba and Kweku tried to organize a commemorative boxing match at a Monaco casino (which fell through); plans are under foot to host commemorative soccer games and parties and God knows what else for Mandela’s 95th birthday in July.

The Mandela name will surely be increasingly 'branded', a rival to Coca Cola, as the family, and whomever can, will exploit the life and times of Nelson Mandela. And there might well be truth to the rumour that the family want to resuscitate the sale of Mandela artwork, a cash cow if there ever was one, bearing in mind Mandela's huge commercial success as an artist.

It was during Mandela’s years of producing drawings and sketches of Robben Island that he became intrigued with the idea of the handprint. ‘I drew hands,’ explained Mandela, ‘because they are powerful instruments, hands can hurt or heal, punish or uplift'.

As an artist myself, I know that to paint one's palm, to press it to paper, to lift one's palm from the paper and see the mark left, is a satisfying and almost primal sensation. Whether it’s a pre-schooler’s tiny handprint on paper, a bushman print on a cave wall, an imprint by a Hollywood star in a Wall of Fame, or Mandela’s famous ‘Africa’ impression of his right palm which shows an African continent in the centre, a handprint is a powerful mark of personal expression emoting the very essence of the person who made it.

Mandela went on to say, ‘(Hands) can also be bound, but a quest for righteousness can never be repressed. In time, we broke loose the shackles of injustice, we joined hands across social divides and national boundaries, between continents and over oceans, and now we look to the future, knowing that even if age makes us wiser guides, it is the youth that reminds us of love, of trust and the value of life.’

In this case the younger generation sorely need to be reminded that there's value in treating others -in this case Mandela's extended support system on which he relies- with respect and care. Life means more than what we can grab from it in material terms. And if there's a bun fight let it happen after the fact.

At least grandson Mandla Mandela, perhaps too busy chasing Kenyan beauties, has distanced himself from the grubby business of forcing the hand of the trust directors. ‘Advocate George Bizos... has an enduring relationship with my grandfather and the family. It is important at all times that we, as a family, avoid actions that will infringe on the dignity of our grandfather'.

Families don’t always take the High Road, do they? But what would surely disappoint Mandela, as it has in the past if one considers the court battles fought over who holds the rights to sell his artwork, is the exploitation of his mark and his signature, and his good name.

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