JOHANNESBURG — From political posters to bottles of wine and kitchen aprons, the face and name of Nelson Mandela is 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 last Thursday, the scramble for control of the Mandela legacy – both financial and moral – will involve his family, the 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 Houghton, Johannesburg, a house in Qunu in the Eastern Cape, 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 Mandela brand is that it has been lived by him exactly as it has been presented by him. His behaviour is his brand,” Jeremy Sampson, the executive chairperson of Interbrand Sampson de Villiers said.
“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 has not all been straightforward.
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.
“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 46 664 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 R12 million, he added.
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 which 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.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation, which runs the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg, was set up as the official custodian of the Mandela brand. It owns more than a dozen copyrights and trademarks for Mandela, which it uses for fundraising and charitable works.
As well as the “46 664” number, its copyrights include the “Nelson Mandela” name, “Madiba” and “Rolihlahla”, which was Mandela’s given name.
In all, the foundation had net income of R22 million in 2012 and assets of R290 million. In 2011 net income totalled R33 million and assets came to R262 million.
It paid Mandela R2,8 million in 2011 and R2,9 million last year for the book it published with his help called Conversations with Myself, which was 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,” Heather Henriques, intellectual property and governance manager at the Centre of Memory said.
Separately, the Nelson Mandela Children’s fund has rights to use the Mandela name for fundraising. Between 1995 and 2012 the fund brought in R1,2 billion in income and paid out R462 million 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 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 more than 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 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,” Verne Harris, the director and archivist at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said.
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, Likonelo Magagula, an intellectual property attorney at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright in Johannesburg, said.
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 ANC.
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 — the first time the party had chosen to elevate the individual above the collective.
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.
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”.