A legal battle over a family trust is always ugly. When the source of that trust is still alive, it’s worse. When the family of ailing former president Nelson Mandela goes to court to dispute who controls the profit from R15 million worth of hand paintings, it’s bound to be diabolical. Throw in a cabinet member and one of the country’s most prominent lawyers and you have a perfect storm. As the world is trying to come to terms with Madiba’s failing health and the legacy he will leave, his daughters want their money. By GREG NICOLSON.
On Wednesday it emerged that Mandela’s daughters have launched a court application to dispute the directorship of companies established to manage the proceeds from the sale of the former president’s artworks. The court applications by Zenani and Makaziwe Mandela allege that George Bizos, Tokyo Sexwale and Bally Chuene were never appointed by Madiba as shareholders or directors of either Harmonieux Investment Holdings or Magnifique Investment Holdings, the two companies set up explicitly to channel the proceeds from the sale of Mandela’s famous handprints to his family.
Michael Hart, representing Bizos, Sexwale and Chuene, was asked by Daily Maverick whether it’s as simple as going to the master of the court to see who is listed as the official directors of the companies. “Yes,” he responded. “I’m really not certain of the basis of [lawyer Ismail Ayob’s] challenge.” He said the official records show that his clients are listed as directors of the companies in dispute. Asked if Mandela’s daughters’ lawyer might question the former president’s state of mind at the time of appointing the three, Hart said, “I don’t think that’s relevant at all.”
In an affidavit to the South Gauteng High Court, Makaziwe stated, “All three – Bizos, Chuene and Sexwale – were invited to resign as directors, which invitation they declined. Bizos, Chuene and Sexwale were not formally appointed by the shareholder [Mandela] of the companies by way of any resolution.” She added: “Neither Zenani nor I, in our capacity as directors or in any other capacity, have ever received any notice to pass a resolution appointing, or have ever appointed advocate Bizos, Chuene and Sexwale directors of Magnifique or Harmonieux.”
The allegations have stirred resentments lasting almost a decade and have made international headlines as the world speculates on Madiba’s health. Mandela took Ayob to court in 2006 for abusing his name for commercial purposes and selling the struggle icon’s artworks without permission. Representing Mandela in that case were Bizos and Chuene. The court was shown a letter instructing Ayob, then a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Trust, to assist in transferring administration of the trust to Bizos, advocate Wim Trengrove and Chuene. In 2007, a settlement was reached and Ayob agreed to pay part of the R2.2 million he was alleged to have disbursed from the trust without the permission of the other trustees.
Speaking to City Press in 2007, Mandela’s former lawyer, Ayob, questioned whether Madiba was of sound mind when making decisions about key financial issues. “As with his signature, the applicant [Mandela] was persuaded with reference to photographs and film clips of him making sketches that he actually did make drawings and, in fact, went for drawing lessons. After a few days, the applicant would again deny having done any of the artwork and the process [of reminding him by use of film clips] would have to be repeated.” He said Mandela’s state of mind is deteriorating and was vulnerable.
Responding to the fresh allegations in 2013, Bizos, who represented Mandela in the Treason Trial and is one of the country’s most prominent attorneys, called the application a money grab. “There is no basis to the allegations. We are not hijackers. We don’t hijack things,” he told The Star. “The public should ask themselves why five years later these allegations are being laid. We are confident we were regularly appointed at the wish of Mr Mandela five years ago.”
Hart said his clients were lawfully appointed by Mandela to take over from Ayob. “We are instructed to record our clients’ complete rejection of the scurrilous allegations made by Makaziwe and Zenani in their court papers. These will be refuted in the answering affidavits filed in support of our clients’ opposition to the application.” He added: “Our instructions are that in June 2004, Mr Mandela ended his professional relationship with attorney Ismail Ayob and his firm. He provided explicit instructions to Ayob, identifying the independent professionals and businessman of high repute who were to be appointed to replace Ayob and his family members as trustees of the various trusts and directors of companies owned by such trusts.”
The feud gets messier. Bizos alleges that Ayob paid R150,000 to Makaziwe and Zenani. Ayob refuted the claims, telling The Star, “Bizos has hijacked these two companies and that is illegal. You can’t just hijack companies… George is so offensive that he thinks I can pay them a bribe of R150,000. Only a white man can speak that language. He has hijacked the Mandela companies and he must resign.”
Mandela’s daughters claim to be representing the interests of their children and argue Bizos, Sexwale and Chuene are failing to do the same. Makaziwe’s affidavit claims “almost all” of Mandela’s descendents do not support the trio, but Mandla Mandela, named by Makaziwe as having signed an affidavit to support the court application, denied on Wednesday that he signed anything asking for the removal of who he called “men of integrity”.
Zenani was appointed South Africa’s ambassador to Argentina last year, making her the first of Mandela’s children to take a public position (though it must be said their lives have always been rather public, to the extent that three of Mandela’s grandchildren feature in reality TV series Being Mandela). Zenani took over from former DA leader Tony Leon in Buenos Aires. Last year she started the fashion label Long Walk to Freedom with daughters Zaziwe and Swati (who star in Being Mandela) and sons Zozuko and Zinhle.
While we must wait to see the evidence presented to court, the struggle over Mandela’s wealth is crass, to say the least. South Africa faces intense challenges and the hope for much of the public is still embodied in the spirit of Mandela. He’s now too old to keep inspiring us with new acts of courage and reconciliation and will not live forever. Yet his name will live on in the minds of all South Africans. But while we look to the ideas of Mandela, whether we agree or disagree with his philosophies, as South Africa faces up to its challenge and Madiba lives his last days, his name is being dragged into the courts by his daughters whose actions appear devoid of all he embodied. Over hand paintings, no less. DM
Photo: Former South African president Nelson Mandela (R) walks past George Bizos, his lifelong friend as he leaves the media briefing after his acceptance of the historical collections from the National Archives at the Mandela foundation in Houghton, November 28 2008. Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
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