Mandelas pull legal aid scam

21 July 2013 - 11:20
Mandla Mandela. File photo.
Mandla Mandela. File photo.

The 16 Mandelas who took their relative Mandla Mandela to court were too poor to afford their own lawyers, according to Rhodes University, which funded their case.

The Rhodes University Law Clinic confirmed this week that it had regarded some of the Mandela applicants to be "indigent". It would not reveal the criteria it used to determine their eligibility for funding.

The constitution provides for free legal aid. Legal Aid SA stipulates that aid will be provided to individuals who:

Earn less than R5500 a month after tax;

Are on state grants, or are pensioners; and

Those whose house and belongings are worth not more than R300000. In the case of applicants who do not own a house, the worth of their personal belongings, including a car, furniture and clothing, cannot exceed R75000.

The Mandela family, considered to be South African royalty by virtue of former president Nelson Mandela's stature, hardly appear to qualify as being "indigent".

Instead, a cursory glance at these Mandelas shows considerable professional achievements among them.

Mandela's wife Graça is the founder and president of the Graça Machel Trust;

Ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is an MP and earns an annual salary of just more than R800000 along with significant travel and accommodation perks;

Daughter Makaziwe is the founder of House of Mandela wines, which are distributed in the US and other countries. She also has mining and petroleum business interests;

Daughter Zindzi is the CEO of Zendj Holdings and is involved in Mandela-Msomi Trading Enterprises. She is tipped to become a consular official in Los Angeles in the US;

Daughter Zenani has been the ambassador to Argentina since July last year;

Grandson Ndaba is chairman of the Africa Rising Foundation and managing director of Rebel Soul Entertainment;

Granddaughter Ndileka is project coordinator at Equiton, a private investment company;

Granddaughter Nandi is a director of Mediclinic International and a director of Linda Masinga and Associates;

Grandson Mbuso, son of the late Makgatho Mandela, is a student at Damelin College;

Granddaughter Tukwini is a co-founder, with her mother Makaziwe, of House of Mandela wines and former marketing head of Absa Wealth;

Granddaughter Dorothy Amuah is a marketing and PR consultant with an MBA from the University of Monaco. She co-stars in Being Mandela, the TV reality series;

Grandson Kweku is a co-founder of the Africa Rising Foundation;

Grandson Andile, Makgatho's son, is a student;

Great-grandson Hlanganani, Nandi's son, is involved in business;

Great-grandson Thembela, Ndileka's son, is a student; and

Great-granddaughter Phumla, Ndileka's daughter, is a student.

On its website, Rhodes Law Clinic states as one of its primary objectives "the provision of free legal services to the indigent people of Grahamstown and the surrounding area, who cannot afford to pay a private practitioner".

None of the Mandela applicants live in Grahamstown or surrounds and none of the students in the family are studying at Rhodes.

Asked whether the Mandela family had requested legal aid and who among his relatives he considered to be indigent, Ndaba Mandela said only : "Be careful of your sources."

The deputy director of the law clinic, Wesley Hayes, has emerged as a central figure in the matter. He was the Mandelas' instructing attorney when they approached the High Court in Mthatha this month to have the remains of three of Nelson Mandela's children removed from Mvezo and reburied at Qunu.

Hayes has since been reported to the Cape Law Society by Mandla Mandela, who wants him to be investigated for "misleading" claims contained in the court papers lodged in the high court, alleging that the elder statesman - who has been in hospital for 43 days - was in a "permanent vegetative state" and that his family had been advised by his doctors to switch off his life support.

Hayes also represents Mandla's estranged wife, Tando Mabunu-Mandela, in their protracted divorce battle. Rhodes Law Clinic now pays her legal fees - despite the fact that she receives R12500 interim maintenance from Mandla.

Mabunu-Mandela was a client of Hayes from 2009, when he worked at Joubert Galpin and Searle. He left the firm about six months ago. The Rhodes Law Clinic is now representing her in the divorce.

Mandla said he found it a "curious coincidence" that the clinic represented his estranged wife.

His spokesman, Freddy Pilusa, said: "We suppose Tando Mabunu-Mandela is also regarded as indigent. We find their claim that some members of the Mandela family are indigent absurd."

Rhodes University's director of special projects, Susan Smailes, said that at the time the Mandelas instructed Hayes, the law clinic established that a number of the applicants were "indigent".

"A call was made to the management of the law clinic requesting permission to take on the matter. Permission was granted as the management was satisfied that there was compliance with the means test," said Smailes.

She would not say how the "means test" was applied to determine that some of the Mandelas were too poor to pay their own legal fees.

Smailes also said the law clinic took the case because it involved "the tension [concerning] the role of women in traditional matters".

"The view was that Mandla's approach to deciding this family matter was at the expense of women's voices in the family."

She said even though the clinic represented Mabunu-Mandela and the 16 family members against Mandla, "there is no link between the two actions".

A source said that four of the Mandela family members had passed the means test to be regarded as indigent.

"Because some applicants did not have the financial means to hire a private attorney, the [law clinic's] directors agreed to take up the case."

Asked whether the income of other family members had been taken into consideration, the source said: "The centre does not look at the earnings of the students' parents. That is not part of the means test."

The Rhodes Law Clinic lists among its funders the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, German Development Services, the Department of Justice, the Attorney's Fidelity Fund, the French Embassy and the Rural Legal Trust.

In his complaint against Hayes, Mandla said the lawyer had committed "professional misconduct" because he never provided the "purported all-important affidavits from my grandfather's physicians" to back up his court claim.

"Whilst my grandfather is indeed seriously ill, there is no present danger - nor did such danger exist at the time of the urgent application - of my grandfather's life-support machine being switched off," said Mandla.

He has complained to the Eastern Cape Society of Advocates about David Smith, who was instructed by Hayes on the reburial matter.

In the Smith complaint, Mandela's grandson said the advocate should have "ensured" supporting affidavits were submitted to court before making such claims. Hayes said he was confident that he would be "vindicated" by the Cape Law Society.

The Eastern Cape Society of Advocates confirmed an investigation into Smith's conduct. On Friday, Smith said he had not received any correspondence about the matter.

Mandla has gone back to the High Court in Mthatha to ask that the reburial order against him be rescinded on the grounds that Smith had lied to the court. Makaziwe did not respond to requests for comment. - Additional reporting by Sam Mkokeli and Kathryn Kimberley