The former South African president Nelson Mandela is 93 on Monday – and exploiters are already circling the ageing icon.
By Tim Butcher
In a remote corner of the website run by those who look after Nelson Mandela’s affairs is a page that conveys perfectly the acute concern over the legacy of the ageing South African icon. The page is entitled “Fraudulent Activity”.
Beloved by so many, beatified by some, the reality is that there are those who seek to profit fraudulently from association with the man who transcended politics to become a global symbol of decency. And as his passing draws nearer – he turns 93 on Monday, obliged by frailty to withdraw largely from public life – the fear is that exploiters are circling like hyenas around an elderly lion.
Mandela’s advisors have long sought to protect his name. Ten years ago his then lawyer, Ismail Ayob, forced the closure of a Cape Town fast food shop newly opened under the tacky name of “Nelson’s Chicken and Gravy Land”, with a menu offering the Nelson Liberation family meal.
That same lawyer, ironically enough, later resigned as a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Trust after being accused of personally profiting from the sale of memorabilia including artworks bearing Mr Mandela’s signature. Mr Ayob denied the allegations but the dispute with a once trusted member of Mr Mandela’s inner circle was bloody and bitter.
Even those involved in uplifting parts of the Mandela narrative have not been spared. Mr Mandela famously invited former guards from his time as a political prisoner of the apartheid regime to attend his inauguration as president in 1994 when minority rule had finally been defeated. More than an act of forgiveness, it was a commitment to the new South Africa, one that is inclusive, seeing beyond ranking by colour.