JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — In the first few minutes of South Africa’s newest reality TV show, Nelson Mandela’s granddaughters squabble about a boyfriend, berate a shop assistant and visit their grandfather’s jail cell on Robben Island.
“It’s all part of being a Mandela,” one of the young women says.
South Africans appear to disagree, widely ridiculing the Kardashian-style show when it premiered Wednesday night, depicting the luxurious lives of Mandela granddaughters Swati Dlamini and Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway.
But it shows the growing controversy over attempts to make money off the now-frail Mandela’s famous name. While the 94-year-old anti-apartheid hero recovers at home following his latest hospitalization for pneumonia, his progeny are stepping up the battle for control over the Mandela legacy — and the limelight.
Mandela retired from public life in 1999 and was last seen in public in 2010. He has married three times, and has three surviving children, 17 grandchildren, and 12 surviving great-grandchildren.
Apart from the reality TV show, the two granddaughters run a clothing line called LWTF — or Long Walk to Freedom, after the title of their grandfather’s autobiography.
The clothing line is a selection of otherwise uninspiring T-shirts bearing Mandela’s image and signature, along with the “Long Walk to Freedom” catchphrase.
“The brand stands for or represents making people strive to be better,” a mission statement says. “The Mandela Brand is a credible brand that people trust across the globe and we feel that all people from all walks of life want to be associated with the Mandela brand.”
Two of Mandela's daughters — Makaziwe and Zenani — last week launched a court action to wrest control of two companies that Mandela had put under direction of high-profile South Africans, including human rights lawyer George Bizos, who defended him against the death penalty in 1964.
The two companies mainly generate funds for the family from the sale of artwork featuring Mandela's handprint.
Bizos, who is 84, has rejected the claims, saying that the two Mandela daughters brought the court application “in order to further their interests and get their hands on the money.”
Mandela's daughters claim that Bizos, along with cabinet minister Tokyo Sexwale and former Mandela lawyer Bally Chuene, were never appointed directors of the two holdings companies, and had forced themselves onto the boards.
"There is no basis to the allegations,” Bizos told the Johannesburg Star.
A third Mandela granddaughter on Wednesday publicly criticized Bizos, who is a longtime friend of Mandela and is now defending victims of last year’s Marikana mining massacre.
In an open letter, Tukwini Mandela accused Bizos of besmirching the Mandela name and of spreading "blatant lies and innuendo," while urging him to act in a way "befitting of your status.”
"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.
"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.”
Tukwini Mandela and her mother, Makaziwe, recently launched the House of Mandela Wines at a trade fair in Florida — and have themselves drawn criticism from other members of the Mandela family, who feel it is inappropriate to associate Nelson Mandela with alcohol.
An editorial in South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper titled, “Greedy hands in the Mandela cookie jar,” criticizes his children and grandchildren that “have begun circling Mandela’s purported wealth, each avariciously determined to extract financial gain from a man who not only has meant so much to our country, but is a positive global symbol.”
“The open bickering in the Mandela family is shameful, given the frailty of the former president,” the editorial said.
“It is downright embarrassing to witness how a man to whom this country owes an untold debt and who is known as the father of our nation is being torn apart by those closest to him.”