From political posters to bottles of wine and kitchen aprons, the face and name of Nelson Mandela are a potent commercial and political brand in South Africa. Little wonder it’s so sought after — and the source of occasional squabbles.
Following his death on Thursday at the age of 95, the scramble for control of the Mandela legacy — both financial and moral — will involve his family, the ruling African National Congress (ANC), and the Nelson Mandela Foundation he set up to protect his broader message.
At stake is the inheritance that will go to Mandela’s more than 30 children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, some of whom already use the Mandela name and image to market everything from clothing to reality TV.
There are also the Mandela brands and trademarks that help fund the foundation. And for the ANC, Mandela’s reputation as an anti-apartheid hero is worth votes for years to come.
There are no available public figures of Mandela’s wealth, making it difficult to put an exact value on his estate, which includes an upscale house in Johannesburg, a modest dwelling in his rural Eastern Cape home province, and royalties from book sales including his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.
Several South African branding experts have declined to estimate the annual value of Mandela’s trademark and brands.
Maintaining control over the copyrights is already a difficult business; protecting the Mandela brand may be even harder now that he is gone.
“The beauty of the Nelson Mandela brand is that it has been lived by him exactly as it has been presented by him. His behaviour is his brand,” said Jeremy Sampson, the executive chairman of Interbrand Sampson de Villiers.
“In the rush to commercialise it, we run the risk of watering down or destroying the good that the brand stood for purely with the crassness of finance,” he added.
Mandela divided the management of his legacy between a series of trusts to handle his finances and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which serves as custodian of his wider moral legacy.
In total, he set up about two dozen trusts, mostly to pay for the education of his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
It hasn’t all been straight forward.
A legal tussle between Mandela’s long-time friend, lawyer George Bizos, and two of Mandela’s daughters became public this year as the daughters sought to have Bizos and other Mandela associates ousted from companies set up to sell his handprint for use in art and memorabilia.
According to an affidavit filed by Bizos and the others, the two daughters, Makaziwe Mandela and Zenani Dlamini, had been trying to gain control of the main Mandela Trust since 2005 and eventually became trustees without Mandela’s knowledge.
Mandela became angry when he found out what the daughters had done, Bizos and the other associates said in the affidavit.
“Mr Mandela was shocked and used a common expression ‘Good Lord!’ He was most infuriated and wanted to know what had happened.”
A portion of the revenue from the foundation’s 46664 clothing line — named after Mandela’s prisoner number on Robben Island — and the artworks also goes to pay for family members’ education, according to Bizos.
“The trust has adopted the procedure of requiring the applicant for money to furnish an invoice,” Bizos said, adding that every request accompanied by proper paperwork has been granted.
But some family members have asked for a lump sum payment of 12 million rand (€850,000), he said.
Such demands fuel the notion, widely held in South Africa, that some of Mandela’s children have exploited their father. Makaziwe, Mandela’s eldest daughter, bristles at that.
“This is what we are, in a sense, entitled to, that my father worked for, and he did it with his own hands to create something for the welfare and upkeep of himself and his children,” she told the Financial Times in April.
“If everybody wants a little bit of the Madiba magic, why is it so sacrilegious for the rightful owners... to use the Madiba magic?” she said, referring to her father by his clan name.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation, which runs the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg, was set up as the official custodian of Brand Mandela. It owns more than a dozen copyrights and trademarks for Mandela, which it uses for fundraising and charitable works.
As well as the 46664 number, its copyrights include the ‘Nelson Mandela’ name, the clan name ‘Madiba’ by which he is widely known, and ‘Rolihlahla’, which was Mandela’s given name.
Income those brands generate — ‘46664’ runs as a charity that sells wristbands and mobile phone starter packs, for instance — helps pay for the running of the Foundation’s Centre of Memory, which is the main research and archive centre for Mandela, and which often spoke on his behalf as his health faded.
In all, the foundation had net income of 22 million rand (€1.5m) in 2012 and assets of 290 million rand. In 2011 net income totalled 33 million rand and assets came to 262 million. It paid Mandela 2.8 million rand in 2011 and 2.9 million rand last year for the book it published with his help called Conversations with Myself, a follow-up to his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.
“We do not commercialise our trademarks, however, we do undertake publications like Conversations with Myself... for educational purposes,” said Heather Henriques, intellectual property and governance manager at the Centre of Memory.
Separately, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund has rights to use the Mandela name for fundraising. Between 1995 and 2012 the fund brought in 1.2 billion rand in income and paid out 462 million rand in grants. But not everything that uses Mandela’s name was sanctioned by him.
There are at least 40 companies officially registered with the South African government that use the Mandela name. The companies appear to have no link to either Nelson Mandela, any of his relatives or any geographic area that has the Mandela name. The list includes the Gandhi-Mandela Nursing Academy, Mandela Truck Shuttle Services, Mama Mandela Marketing Company, Thanks Mandela Toiletries and Mandela’s Shed, a restaurant.
The ‘Madiba’ name has been used by over 140 registered companies, including Madiba Truck Stop, Madiba Wines, Madiba’s Driving School, Madiba Chickens, Madiba Cash and Madiba Bottle Store.
The foundation may own the website ‘nelsonmandela.org’, but ‘mandela.org’ belongs to a Brazilian, who told Reuters he is using it for a personal project, which is a tool for computers.
There are also regularly scams where fake charities use Mandela’s name to raise funds. The South African government in mid-2013 issued a statement warning people not to be duped by such groups.
Against all this, the Mandela Foundation picks its battles with care, only rarely suing firms that use his name of image.
“The brand Nelson Mandela is not like the brand Coca-Cola. It’s huge, it’s complex, there are many sub-brands within that brand. We implement protections in a relatively small space,” said Verne Harris, the director and archivist at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. “Madiba has given permission for his name to be used by close to 50 institutions around the world. Only in the last decade there was a system put in place for managing that and a set of criteria applied and then a code of conduct developed for those institutions to subscribe to.”
Because copyrights are owned by the person who creates the work — and not the subject — copyright law does not prevent the depiction of Mandela’s image on T-shirts or other items, said Likonelo Magagula, an intellectual property attorney at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright in Johannesburg.
Trademark lawyers also say there is little to stop family members using the Mandela name, as long as they link the name to themselves and not exclusively to Nelson Mandela.
Makaziwe and one of her daughters have launched a ‘House of Mandela’ range of wines, even if Mandela himself once said he did not want to be associated with alcohol or tobacco.
Some of his grandchildren have started a line of caps and sweatshirts that feature his image under the brand “Long Walk to Freedom”, borrowed from the title of his autobiography, while two of his US-based granddaughters starred in a reality television show called Being Mandela.
The other group keen to use Mandela’s image is the ruling African National Congress. After Mandela was imprisoned in 1964, the ANC made a conscious decision to use him and his young wife Winnie as symbols of the struggle against the racist government.
When Mandela walked out of prison in 1990, he became a figure of reconciliation, calming the white minority who had been told for years he was the terrorist face of the ‘swart gevaar’, or ‘black danger’.
Today the ANC needs that magic more than ever. “The ANC made the brand and the brand became bigger than the ANC,” author and political analyst William Gumede said.
When President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela at his Johannesburg home in April, some in the Mandela family accused the current president of manipulating a frail old man to shore up his own battered image.
Makaziwe called news footage from that visit showing her father resting his head against a pillow and staring vacantly as Zuma grinned beside him “undignified and in bad taste”.
The ANC defended the visit. Mandela “belongs to the ANC first and then to the whole country”, ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu told South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper.
Even the opposition Democratic Alliance, still seen by many as a party of white privilege, has laid claim to his legacy, using his picture in campaign material to the outrage of ANC members. With a general election next year, both parties are likely to work hard to capture a slice of the Mandela magic.
“We may be exposed to the sordid spectacle of different political parties turning Mandela into a prop,” said Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst at the Helen Suzman Foundation, a public interest think tank.
“Turning him into a political commodity from which they can profit — that would be the worst insult, especially if political parties attach his legacy to lies that they want to tell the electorate to get votes.”
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