Nelson Mandela’s grand-daughters land reality show

Sisters Swati Dlamini and Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway are to star in the US reality television show, Being Mandela. Picture: AP
Sisters Swati Dlamini and Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway are to star in the US reality television show, Being Mandela. Picture: AP
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IN MANY ways, this reality show is like many before it: mother-and-daughter squabbles, sibling rivalry, family gossip and talk of an influential and beloved grandparent.

However, in the case the grandparent – Big Grandpa as he is known – is Nelson Mandela, the South African statesman.

Being Mandela, a series beginning in the United States this weekend, invites audiences into the lives of Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini, the granddaughters of Mr Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

The 94-year-old former South African president, who recently was treated for a lung infection and had surgery to remove gallstones, does not appear in the series but his ex-wife – Big Mommy to her grandchildren – does and seems to relish it.

“We get asked this question a lot. Is this not going to tarnish the name and is this not going to be bad for the name?” Ms Dlamini said. “But our grandparents have always said to us, this is our name too, and we can do what we think is best fitting with the name, as long as we treat it with respect and integrity.”

The 13-episode first season follows the two women as they try to carry on the family legacy while juggling motherhood in Johannesburg.

The sisters, who spent most of their childhood in exile in the US, make an emotional visit to the prison on Robben Island where their grandfather spent 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned.

Ms Dlamini-Manaway meets the guard who, she says, smuggled her into prison as a baby so Mr Mandela could meet her.

Prison guard Christo Brand recalls initially refusing to allow Mr Mandela to see his grandchild, according to his memoir at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

Then, Mr Brand says, he gave in, though he feared he might lose his job. “I gave him the baby, he had tears in his eyes while he held her …” he says. “Mandela never told anyone about this. When we walked back to the prison section, he told me how important the moment was, to touch something small.”

The sisters, along with two brothers, also become the latest famous names to launch a fashion line, called Long Walk to Freedom in honour of their grandfather’s autobiography. Their lives are special and glamorous and they know it.

They also bicker. The family, especially Mrs Madikizela-Mandela, loves to gossip about when Ms Dlamini, the single mother of a four-year-old daughter, is going to get married.

Ms Dlamini is furious when her sister, despite being sworn to secrecy, blurts to their grandmother that her sister is dating someone.

Ms Dlamini-Manaway, 35, is married to an American businessman and has three children.

Big Grandpa and Big Mommy are into the show, the sisters said. Mr Mandela will definitely watch it, they said. The Nobel Peace Prize winner apparently likes reality television.

“You’ll be interested to know that he loves Toddlers and Tiaras,” said Ms Dlamini, laughing in reference to the TLC series about child beauty pageants.

“Because of the kids – he just loves children,” her sister added quickly.

The women said their grandfather is “happy and healthy”.

Mr Mandela, who always lamented his long separation from his family during his imprisonment, is happiest these days when his offspring are running around being loud, his granddaughters said.

They say their grandfather – to the world, a symbol of integrity and magnanimity – holds the family to high standards and sets rules for when the children should be home and when dinner should start.

“He’s a very strict person. Most people wouldn’t think that but he really, really is,” Ms Dlamini-Manaway said.