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Fears Mandela name may be abused

18 December 2013, 09:02

Johannesburg - One of the world's most revered names, "Mandela" has also become a money-spinning brand that some fear may be abused and devalued by the very people supposed to protect it - his heirs.

The man hailed for his selflessness and sacrifice had pointedly stated during his lifetime that he did not wish to be linked to commercial products.

Yet in the last months of his life, feuds broke out among his close associates and family members over using the Mandela name to sell everything from wine to art - at times grabbing such attention the spats threatened to overshadow reflections on the great man himself.

In financial terms, experts expect the Mandela brand to shoot through the roof now that the revered statesman has died.

"It is only natural that now, when the inevitable laws of nature have taken the first democratically-elected South African president from our midst, people want to have at least a small token as a reminder of the great man," Jaco Jonker, chief executive officer of the online auction site bidorbuy, told AFP.

T-shirts, flags, caps and badges bearing the Mandela likeness and name have been selling wildly at sidewalk stalls since Mandela - also lovingly known as Tata (father) and Madiba (his clan name) -died on December 5, aged 95

Booksales have soared, and the bidorbuy online auction site reported a "phenomenal" rise in demand for Mandela-related products - with 378 items sold on each of the first three days after his death, compared to a usual daily average of about 60.

Grey zone

Who owns the rights on products bearing the Mandela image or name, however, is somewhat of a grey zone.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, a charity created by the revered statesman, has 18 registered trademarks "to provide a legal instrument for acting against inappropriate use of Madiba's name and image", Verne Harris, head of the foundation's Centre of Memory, told AFP.

"The primary rationale for the registrations is... to prevent commercial exploitation."

South Africa's Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office has 130 enterprises listed, including Lattelicious Mandela Square (a Johannesburg coffee shop), Mandela Auto Body Parts, Mandela Clothing, and Mandela Poultry Cooperative Limited.

And then there are the dozens of roads, buildings, bridges, parks, schools and shopping malls, even a city - Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape - that carry the famous name.

Branding expert Jeremy Sampson says it is impossible to protect a name absolutely, and suggested efforts to do so had been "a little slow to begin with".

"Certain things have been organised and set up that carry his mandate, but other things were set up by members of his family the he or his lawyers have been unable to control," said Sampson.

"It is a murky world at the moment," he added.

One key point that is not legally clear is what rights Mandela's more than 30 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have to use the registered name that is also their own.

And what about the ruling African National Congress with whom his name is intrinsically linked - an association presumably worth a few votes?

In recent months, some members of the Mandela family have sought to cash in on the brand, leading to much airing of dirty laundry.

Investment firms

Two of the icon's daughters sought to wrest control from four Mandela confidants of two investment firms created to channel proceeds from the sale of Mandela handprints to his family.

The prints, produced between 2004 and 2005, were reportedly sold to celebrities for over $1.7 million.

The daughters later abandoned their bid.

There was also an argument involving grandson Mandla Mandela, who accused his aunts of trying to gain control of the Mandela millions.

Mandla, in turn, moved the remains of his late father and two other relatives to Mvezo, Mandela's birthplace and where Mandla is tribal chief, in a bid, his family claimed, to try and force the statesman's burial there to cash in on the ensuing tourism.

Mandla was forced by a court order to return the remains to Qunu, where Mandela grew up and where he had expressed a wish to be buried.

Qunu, where the statesman was finally laid to rest on Sunday, already has a Mandela museum.

Harris has previously said that Mandela wanted to avoid all commercial exploitation of his name.

Expensive wines

"The guidelines included things like 'I don't want my face on commercial products, I do not want to be associated with tobacco, alcohol', and so on."

Yet a Mandela daughter and granddaughter have launched a range of expensive wines, named "House of Mandela", that they claim honours his memory.

Two other granddaughters are the stars of a television reality show called "Being Mandela", and yet others launched the "Long Walk to Freedom" clothing line after the title of their forefather's autobiography.

Many fear the fight for Mandela's name, and his assets, will intensify after the mourning period passes.

"I think his family has already done a lot of damage to his name," said Sampson.

"Reputation impacts on the brand, and vice versa."



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