JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Nelson Mandela’s grandchildren insisted on Thursday they were not after his money after launching court action over alleged irregularities in two companies owned by South Africa’s ailing anti-apartheid icon.
“Most of us are gainfully employed, work for our own companies and run our own projects,” they said in a statement.
The family last week filed papers to oust the Nobel peace laureate’s longtime friend and lawyer George Bizos from the boards of trustees of Mandela’s two companies, along with cabinet minister Tokyo Sexwale and Mandela’s former lawyer Bally Chuene.
The grandchildren said they had noted attempts in the media by Bizos and Sexwale to “paint our family as insensitive money grabbers.”
“The court action is to correct procedural and governance anomalies of the two companies,” they said without going into details.
They stressed that the court action is “not about money or exploitation of the Mandela name.”
The court papers were lodged on behalf of the grandchildren by Mandela’s eldest daughters Makaziwe Mandela and Zenani Mandela-Dlamini — who is also South Africa’s ambassador to Argentina. The two are also directors of the companies.
The court action was launched just two days after the 94-year-old former president left hospital where he was treated for pneumonia.
The grandchildren said the family would have preferred to deal with the matter out of court but that “numerous attempts over the past years to resolve the impasse” had been unsuccessful.
“Given this untenable milieu we as a family were left with no other option but to take legal action.”
Mandela has 17 grandchildren, the oldest born in 1965 and the youngest in 1992.
Bizos, who defended Mandela in a 1960s treason trial and successfully opposed his death sentence, has vowed to fight the bid to remove him from the boards of the investment funds worth an estimated $1.7 million (1.2 million euros). He said he was explicitly asked by Mandela to manage that portion of his estate.
The grandchildren said 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 own maintenance, that of his wife as well as the children and grandchildren.
The exclusive artworks, featuring a framed imprint of the global icon’s hand, have been snapped up by international celebrities and politicians.
The legal wrangle raises questions about the former statesman’s capacity to handle his personal affairs, having already been in and out of hospital twice this year.