Thursday, May 23, 2013

Don't live too long...

My stepmother, who will be celebrating her ninetieth birthday this year, is fond of telling me that it’s a bad policy to live too long.  I reply: ‘Yes, but look at the alternative.’  I’m sad to say that Nelson Mandela, or Madiba as he is affectionately known, may be in agreement with my stepmother on this issue now.

The Mandela daughters with Madiba in happier times
First, he had to watch his chosen successor to lead his rainbow nation, Thabo Mbeki, lose touch with his people and lose many of their lives by his HIV denialist policies in the process.  At one point Mbeki’s minister of health, who had a highly checkered medical background, proclaimed the efficacy of a type of African potato and of beetroot against the infection.  There is no question that good nutrition is important in a third world environment and these healthy vegetables are valuable in that context.  They are as useful to stave off AIDS as ground-up rhino horn is to cure cancer.

Mbeki was so out of touch that even his party noticed and after one term the African National Congress replaced him by Jacob Zuma.  Zuma walked smiling into the presidency despite accusations of rape (almost certainly trumped up to try to keep him out of the presidency in the first place) and corruption.  Zuma has kept his supporters well-oiled, so to speak, and is cruising to a second term.  A recent biography suggested that Zuma doesn’t even recognize certain actions as being corrupt, for example, the appointment of family and friends to government positions.

Nelson Mandela made it clear when he stepped down as president after one term that he would stay out of politics and, like all his commitments, he’s honored it to the letter.  Nevertheless, he can hardly be pleased with the way things have developed.  Recently the opposition Democratic Alliance party – desperate to gain a bigger share of the black African vote – ran a picture of Mandela with the doyenne of their party, the late Helen Suzman.  The ANC was horrified by this ‘co-option’ of their icon and the senior group rushed to Mandela’s home for a group picture with the ailing ninety-three year old.  Madiba’s expression says it all:

He is not a well person.  He has been in and out of hospital for lung infections and he is very weak.  He deserves a little peace.

Zenani and Makaziwe trying to keep the wolf from the door
But that is not what he is getting.  He has a number of trusts established for his children, but it has been his clear wish that these should not be touched while he is alive.  In 2005 he approached his long-time friend George Bizos to act as trustee.  He was joined by other trusted and financially astute colleagues. Mandela's daughters, Zenani and Makaziwe, have applied to the Johannesburg High Court to remove Bizos, Tokyo Sexwale, Temba Sangoni and Bally Chuene as directors of the companies, contesting the legality of their appointment. They also want their powers as trustees reduced.  Basically the daughters want the money.  The value of the trusts is around three million US dollars – a substantial sum but nothing like the huge fortunes with which many leaders leave office.  To his credit, Mandela’s son, Mandla, who is a traditional Xhosa leader, is horrified by the proceedings. "It is immoral to fight over an inheritance while the individual is still alive,” he said.  “I have never heard of it in my life. It is like he is being stripped of his clothes and they are being sold off."

Mandla Mandela
The grandkids are on the bandwagon too. Tukwini has made scathing public attacks on Bizos, while Zondwa has registered a company - Mandela 95th Birthday - to ‘corporatize’ the celebration of his grandfather’s birthdays. Two others have started a clothing range called ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ (the title of Mandela’s autobiography) and two are behind a reality show in the US titled ‘Being Mandela'.

This week Mandela’s daughters announced that they would be suing Madiba personally for the control of the trusts and his artwork.

Don’t live too long.

Michael - Thursday


  1. One word immediately comes to mind, Michael: Disinherit.

  2. It makes my heart sick to think of Madiba's greatness and the smallness of his successors and offspring. He has always seemed above our species to me. Can a lion be father to a snake?