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Mandela family gathers round ailing icon

12 June 2013, 08:54

Johannesburg - As ex-president Nelson Mandela battles in hospital against a potentially life-threatening lung infection, his kin - no strangers to family feuds - have come together to be at his bedside.

With hospital visits restricted to close family to minimise the risk of infection, Mandela's daughters Makaziwe and Zindzi have since the weekend been spending several hours at the Pretoria hospital where he is receiving treatment.

His former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, whom Mandela divorced in 1996, five years after his release from prison, has also been visiting the anti-apartheid icon. At least two grandchildren have been spotted entering the hospital.

Mandela's current wife, Graça Machel, was last week forced to cancel an appearance at an international conference in London to be with her husband.

Mandela's children have been largely absent from public life.

But in recent months they have lurched into the limelight for the wrong reasons.

A squabble over the Nobel peace laureate's wealth recently spewed into the public, incensing South Africans who hold the family in high esteem.

Two of Mandela's daughters have gone to court to oust some of their father's trusted friends from the board of two companies that are managing his wealth.

They filed the papers two days after Mandela was discharged from hospital following his last illness in April.


The daughters, saying they are acting on behalf of Mandela's grandchildren, want to remove the 94-year-old's longtime friend and lawyer George Bizos and two others from the boards of trustees of the two companies.

Bizos defended Mandela during the infamous Rivonia trial, in which he was condemned to life in prison 49 years ago.

The R17.m companies were established nine years ago to channel the proceeds of Mandela's exclusive artworks for the benefit of his wife, children and grandchildren.

Mandela's oldest grandson, Mandla, said he was "shocked" that his grandfather's money matters were being discussed in public.

The dispute over Mandela's funds may be signs of growing assertiveness coming with their father's waning influence.

"First of all we need to remember that the Mandela family is a family like any family that has issues," said Johannesburg-based political analyst Muhamed-Nur Nordien.

"When you bring someone as iconic as Nelson Mandela into the picture, without a shade of doubt, you definitely have something very very complex."

Some of the former statesman's grandchildren, rallying behind their mothers, have rejected public accusations of money-grabbing amid Mandela's worsening health.

Mandela brand

The icon's current condition "creates a sense of urgency for many people with interest around him. There are many people with vested interests in the Mandela name, the Mandela brand", said Nordien.

Makaziwe, Mandela's eldest daughter, was furious in April after the broadcast of images of the frail leader following a visit by top officials from the ruling African National Congress.

She accused party leaders of exploiting the 94-year-old to gain political mileage, saying "they should have had the sense to not publish those pictures".

Mandela has  six children and 17 grandchildren.

Though the South African authorities reported on Tuesday that Mandela's condition remains serious, none of his family members have shown signs of sadness when they emerge from the hospital.

On Monday, Winnie was even seen laughing with some unidentified people outside.

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