JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Nelson Mandela’s long-time friend and lawyer George Bizos will fight an attempt by the anti-apartheid icon’s daughters to oust him from the board of Mandela companies, his lawyer said Thursday.
Bizos, who defended Mandela in a 1960s treason trial and successfully opposed his death sentence, will reject accusations that he forced his way on the boards of two Mandela investment funds worth an estimated $1.7 million (1.2 million euro).
Two daughters of ailing 94-year-old Mandela, Makaziwe Mandela and Zenani Mandela-Dlamini, filed papers earlier this week asking a court to remove Bizos, cabinet minister Tokyo Sexwale, and Mandela’s ex-lawyer Bally Chuene from the boards.
Mandela’s children claim that the three were never appointed as shareholders or directors of Harmonieux Investment Holdings and Magnifique Investment Holdings.
But the three men argue that Mandela explicitly asked them to help manage that portion of his estate, and rejected the accusation as “scurrilous”.
“We are instructed to record our clients’ complete rejection of the scurrilous allegations made by the applicants in their papers,” said lawyer Michael Hart.
“Our clients were identified by Mr Mandela and were in due course lawfully appointed as directors of the companies referred to in the application.”
The unseemly row comes just days after a frail Mandela was released from hospital after a bout of pneumonia, and has scandalised South Africa.
Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, who is a tribal chief in the village of the anti-apartheid hero’s birth, has distanced himself from the application.
He told The Times newspaper that he was “shocked” to read about his grandfather’s money being discussed in the media.
“This is a family matter that needs to be discussed internally,” he said, adding that the family must not be perceived as fighting his grandfather’s friend.
The purpose of the companies, established in 2004 by his former lawyer Ismail Ayob, was to channel the proceeds of Mandela’s artworks for his children’s benefit.
The exclusive artworks, featuring a framed imprint of the global icon’s hand, have been snapped up by international celebrities and politicians.
The court application by the Mandela children raises questions about the former statesman’s capacity to handle his affairs, having already been in and out of hospital twice this year.
In December last year Mandela successfully underwent a procedure to remove gallstones and spent Christmas Day in hospital.
Last month, Bizos revealed that his memory was fading, after visiting him at his Johannesburg home.
He said at times forgets that his fellow anti-apartheid allies are dead.
“Unfortunately he sometimes forgets that one or two of them had passed on and has a blank face when you tell him that Walter Sisulu and some others are no longer with us,” Bizos told local media.
The Nobel Peace Prize-winner was imprisoned for 27 years for his fight against white oppression in South Africa. He was freed in 1990 and elected president four years later.
His life story and legacy have been turned into numerous money spinning ventures by his family and charity foundations, including the making of Hollywood movies, books, fashion labels and a television series by his granddaughters.
In February, a reality show featuring three of his granddaughters premiered on US television.
His grandchildren are also behind a clothing label called Long Walk to Freedom Clothing, launched in 2012.
The label sells t-shirts, hoodies and caps, emblazoned with an image of Mandela.
Another fashion line which benefits his foundation and is named after his prison number 46664, is available at upmarket chain stores in the country.