Mandela wants to protect his name
At 86, the world's most respected statesman is fighting to keep his good name out of the shopping malls, advertising billboards and the world wide web without his specific approval.
Last Modified: 17 Nov 2004 13:22 GMT
Mandela has sought to gain exclusive rights of his name
At 86, the world's most respected statesman is fighting to keep his good name out of the shopping malls, advertising billboards and the world wide web without his specific approval.

They call themselves Nelson Mandela Panel Beaters and Nelson Mandela Fine Art, but other than perhaps a shared admiration for South Africa's anti-apartheid icon, the businesses have nothing to do with him.

Mandela has asked South Africa's trademark office to grant him exclusive rights to the name "Nelson Mandela", his clan name "Madiba", his Xhosa name "Rolihlahla" as well as his prison number 46664, said lawyer Don MacRobert.


MacRobert, who was hired by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to mount a legal offensive against businesses profiting from Mandela's prestige, is already grappling with a caseload of 30 complaints.


"It's obvious that they want to ride on the name, image and intellectual property of that world-renowed figure Mr Mandela," says MacRobert.


Trademark registration is expected to take three years, so in the meantime, MacRobert said he was busy firing off letters to Mandela name users "to say 'Hey, Back off', these are proprietary rights solely for Nelson Mandela and the foundation."


The latest dispute revolves around the use of 46664 which the anti-apartheid hero has lent to his campaign to raise AIDS awareness in South Africa.

Prison number dispute

Some companies are bound to
be let off the hook

When Mandela's foundation recently approached South Africa's Telkom company to obtain a telephone number with the 46664 digits, it found that a Johannesburg-based coin dealer Investgold ICC had beaten them to the punch.


The clash with Investgold over the telephone number came on the heels of another dispute over their sale of Mandela gold coins.


After negotiations, Investgold agreed to contact Telkom to change phone numbers, but the dispute over the sale of the coins is ongoing.


"My client has done nothing illegal," said lawyer Carl van Rooyen for Investgold.


MacRobert estimates that the foundation has incurred losses of "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in potential revenues from private merchandising using the Mandela name or portraits.


For decades under apartheid the name Mandela was banned and demonized, but it has since become a favourite for town squares, schools and streets.


AIDS awareness and education is
the prime
focus of Madiba's charity

A Nobel Prize winner who served as South Africa's first black president from 1994 to1999, Mandela has also built a charity empire that includes his Nelson Mandela Foundation and two other smaller organisations, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and the Mandela Rhodes scholarship foundation.


AIDS awareness and rural education have been the prime focus of Mandela's charity work, which relies mostly on donations from corporate and private donors.


The foundation recently was successful in shutting down a website, www.nelsonmandela.com which was soliciting funds for the foundation by instructing donors to send money to a bank in Cyprus.


But MacRobert says Mandela will probably have to throw in the towel on the use of "Madiba" as about 190 companies have already registered under that name such as Madiba Flour Mills.


"I could go after all of them but it would be quite long and costly and we don't think they will become big companies," he says.

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