NELSON Mandela’s grand-daughter has issued an open letter harshly criticising a close associate of the former president and anti-apartheid leader, in an escalation of a dispute over money linked to one of the world’s most revered figures.
Tukwini Mandela accused lawyer George Bizos of insulting her mother, slandering the Mandela family name and spreading “blatant lies and innuendo” in a bitter rift over control of two firms linked to Mr Mandela, 94.
The main purpose of the companies is to channel funds from the sale of handprint artwork by Mr Mandela for the benefit of his family.
In the open letter released yesterday, Tukwini Mandela said: “Please have the decency to behave as an elder if you care for my grandfather and his name, which catapulted you into undeserved stardom.”
She urged Mr Bizos, 84, who has also been a stalwart of the struggle for equal rights in South Africa, to act in a manner “befitting of your status” in society.
The disagreement comes as Nelson Mandela, who last appeared in public in 2010, receives medical care at his Johannesburg home after several hospital visits in recent months.
The dispute over the funds troubles many South Africans, for whom corruption, high crime rates and economic inequality have tainted the new South Africa. Mandela was the country’s first black president and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Makaziwe Mandela, Tukwini’s mother, and Makaziwe’s sister, Zenani, have launched a court case against Mr Bizos and two other associates of Nelson Mandela, alleging they should not remain directors of Harmonieux Investment Holdings and Magnifique Investment Holdings because they were not properly appointed.
The case also alleges that the trio neglected their duties at the helm of the companies.
Earlier this week, The Star newspaper quoted Mr Bizos – who defended Mr Mandela during the apartheid years – as saying Makaziwe Mandela’s goal was to take some company money, estimated to be the equivalent of about £850,000, without providing details of how it would be used.
“This woman wanted to take over the money, not for any specific purpose, and distribute it to members of the family,” he said. “That is contrary to the provisions of the trust. Therefore we refused to give her the money.”
Michael Hart, a lawyer representing Mr Bizos, last week said in a radio interview that Nelson Mandela gave “explicit instructions” for Mr Bizos and two associates, lawyer Bally Chuene and Tokyo Sexwale, a businessman and politician, to oversee the disputed companies. They have done so “without any charge or remuneration”, he said.
In the open letter, Tukwini Mandela said her mother is a “highly educated and accomplished businesswoman in her own right”, and that Mr Bizos’s reported comments showed a lack of respect for Nelson Mandela and his advocacy on behalf of women.
“I doubt you would ever refer to the women in your life as ‘this woman’,” Tukwini Mandela wrote. “You and your peddlers of falsehood have spent the whole of last week casting aspersions on my family, spreading blatant lies and innuendo, hoping that a trial through the media will deter us from defending our name and legacy.”
Tukwini Mandela is the marketing director of House of Mandela, a winemaking company. Two other granddaughters are currently starring in an American television reality show titled Being Mandela.
Mr Bizos, who was born in Greece, defended Mr Mandela during the Rivonia trial in 1960s that led to the African National Congress leader’s conviction on sabotage charges and a sentence of life imprisonment.
Mr Bizos now works at the Legal Resources Centre, a human rights group. He recently cross-examined the national police commissioner and other witnesses before a panel investigating the shooting deaths of 34 striking miners by police last year.