Nelson Mandela left behind an unparalleled legacy of peace, dignity, and selflessness. If early reports are accurate, some of his children and grandchildren don’t exactly subscribe to the same value system. When you think of the man who spent 27 years in jail to bring down apartheid, do you think of clothing lines, reality TV shows, or a wine label? Probably not. But those are a few of the ways that Mandela’s heirs have used his name to profit.
So perhaps it was no surprise that his children and grandchildren began fighting, even before the South African champion of equal rights passed. Mandela’s eldest grandson, Mandla Mandela, was accused of shady maneuvering, hoping to make his gravesite into a profitable tourist attraction. This summer, the New York Times reported that Mandla was sued by other Mandela family members because he felt, as the eldest grandchild, he should decide where Nelson Mandela should be laid to rest.
The problem? Mandla’s dream of a tourist site built around the body of his grandfather wasn’t what Nelson Mandela wanted. In 1996, Mandela created a hand-written will saying he wished to be buried in his ancestral home, the remote village of Qunu. Three of his children had died before him and were already buried there … that is, they were until Mandla decided to uproot them and move them to another village, Mvezo, so he could create a Mandela family burial site. Other family members successfully sued Mandla, forcing the bodies to be returned to Qunu, so that Mandela’s wishes could be fulfilled.
And that was not the only lawsuit. Here in the US, two of Nelson Mandela’s children and several of his grandchildren went to court seeking to oust those in control of a trust fund Mandela had created to benefit his heirs, from sales of his limited edition handprint paintings. The family members backed off the lawsuit, reportedly after Mandela learned of it and was furious. But some predict that it merely foreshadows the legal fights to control Mandela’s image, likeness — and his assets — which may soon follow after his funeral.
Already, many of his heirs have tried to profit from his name and image. Two granddaughters started a reality show, called “Being Mandela.” Others started a House of Mandela wine label. And then there’s the company hawking fashion accessories and t-shirts.
Reuters reported how dozens of companies already use the Mandela name in Africa, while his tribal name, Madiba, is in use by more than 140 companies. Many of his family members feel that it is their turn to profit. As Reuters reported, one of his granddaughters said:
“If everybody wants a little bit of the Madiba magic, why is it so sacrilegious for the rightful owners … to use the Madiba magic?”
At stake are multiple trust funds, charitable foundations, and more — many set up to provide for the education of Nelson Mandela’s descendants. Because of his importance to Africa, and indeed the entire world, the value of his image, likeness, and holdings are impossible to estimate. But one thing seems certain … at least some of family members will battle for control of as much of it as possible.
Reportedly, the primary battle will be between heirs of Mandela’s first and second wives, Evenlyn Mase and Winnie Madikizela. A third battle line will likely form around the trusted advisers of Mandela, whom he put in charge of various trusts and foundations, such as his long-time attorney, George Bizos. A prominent example of family members fighting against advisers in charge of a trust and estate is the Michael Jackson Estate.
The expected legal challenges will likely involve whether certain trust documents Mandela created were done at a time when he was no longer mentally competent, whether he was subjected to undue influence, whether those in control of his trusts and foundations have been guilty of breaches of fiduciary duty, and whether various family members are permitted to profit from his name, likeness and image.
While battles over image and likeness rights are reserved for the rich and famous, the others are common battle-grounds for dysfunctional families, especially in second-marriage situations. Many people mistakenly believe that only the wealthy end up fighting. Sadly, it’s far more common than most people realize — even for families of very modest wealth.
The best source of prevention is good estate planning, done while the person is clearly of sound mind. While the specifics of Nelson Mandela’s estate plan are not yet known, one thing is for nearly certain … his estate and legacy will be the center of fighting. And undoubtedly, at least some of the Nelson Mandela heirs will be motivated by profit rather than upholding the great legacy of peace, equality, and selflessness that he left behind.