Squabbles sully Mandela's legacy

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela has been a revered global statesman for many years, even before he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. But his legacy is at risk of being tarnished. The elderly and ailing Mr Mandela has been living in Qunu, a small rural village in South Africa's Eastern Cape province, where he says he spent the happiest days of his childhood. Although Mr Mandela retired from public life in 2004, and has rarely been seen in public since, his name is synonymous with democracy and the anti-apartheid movement.

Mr Mandela served as South Africa's first black president from 1994 to 1999 and is regarded by many as the father of the nation. Jailed for 27 years, he emerged to play a leading role in the drive for peace in other spheres of conflict. His charisma, self-deprecating humour and lack of bitterness over his harsh treatment, as well as his amazing life story, partly explain his extraordinary appeal.

Since stepping down as president in 1999, Mr Mandela became South Africa's highest-profile ambassador, campaigning against HIV/Aids and helping to secure his country's rights to host the 2010 Football World Cup. Few rugby fans in New Zealand will forget the sight of Mr Mandela and former Spring Boks captain Francois Pienaar posing together before the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Mr Mandela wore the number six jersey, the same number as worn by Pienaar, who gave the president credit for the team's win against the All Blacks.

The mere mention of his name sends shivers down the spines of world leaders, who used to clamour to meet and be photographed with the inspirational leader.

Mr Mandela recently spent time in hospital, 18 days in fact, but was released to continue to receive treatment at his home in Johannesburg until he fully recovers. Now 94, Mr Mandela has suffered ill health for several years and his recent stay in hospital is his longest since leaving prison in 1990. He has been admitted to hospital on three occasions in the past two years.

Behind the scenes, his relatives and colleagues are becoming increasingly involved in bitter feuds for control of his name because of the political and economic riches it carries. The disputes are taking place on many levels, and involve Mr Mandela's family from his three marriages, the ruling African National Congress to which he dedicated most of his life, the various foundations and charities he set up after his retirement in 1999, as well as political comrades and business associates with whom he forged relations.

New to the political stage, Mr Mandela's grandson Mandla Mandela has become influential since his appointment as a traditional chief in Mr Mandela's birthplace, the village of Mvezo, and his elevation to Parliament in 2009.

But there are doubts about his rise to prominence, with a newspaper reporting the South African Broadcasting Corporation had paid a substantial amount of money to Mandla for rights to cover Mr Mandela's funeral.

Mandla was also involved in a bitter feud with the Nelson Mandela Museum over plans to protect Mr Mandela's birthplace as a heritage site and accused it - along with Mr Mandela's Aids project, 46664, named after his prison number - of benefiting and profiting from his grandfather's name. Most family members boycotted his 90th birthday because of differences over the celebrations, despite a plea from Mr Mandela himself.

With his name now a ''brand'' worth millions, Mr Mandela has also been involved in a long-running dispute with his former lawyer, who acted for him when he was in jail on Robben Island, and a businessman over the sale of artwork bearing his signature.

Suspicion lingers that Mr Mandela's family, as well as his political comrades and business associates, will become involved in even more acrimonious battles once he dies.

Sadly, age has caught up with Mr Mandela and people are abusing his name and corrupting his legacy. His contribution to the world has been such that the name Nelson Mandela must be remembered with a sense of reverence and also celebration. The good works he started need to be continued in his name.