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Nelson Mandela Seeks to Protect Name, Charities and Intellectual Property

Nelson Mandela greets the crowd before delivering his speech at the Nelson Mandela Foundation "46664" HIV/AIDS campaign benefit concert in George, South Africa
South Africa's elder statesman, Nelson Mandela, has once again turned to the courts to protect his name, his intellectual property, and his charitable organizations. But this time Mr. Mandela is taking action against his former lawyer.

Mr. Mandela has asked the Johannesburg High Court to block attorney Ishmail Ayob and his business partner Ross Calder from selling artworks they say are endorsed and signed by the former president. Mr. Mandela is also seeking the removal of Mr. Ayob from all his positions in companies created by Mr. Ayob on Mr. Mandela's behalf.

Several years ago Mr. Mandela, after receiving lessons in art, painted a number of still life studies in the naïve style, including views from his cell on Robben Island, that included his signature. In addition reproductions were also made and signed by the former South African president.

The works were then sold to benefit the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and the Nelson Mandela Foundation - his official charities - as well as a trust created for the benefit of his family.

But Mr. Mandela's lawyer, advocate George Bizos, told VOA that the last of the authorized artwork was sold over 18 months ago, and that since then, unauthorized reproductions have been sold by Mr. Calder and his companies.

"Mr. Mandela has not signed anything for the last 18 months, and there is a belief that his signature was superimposed or copied onto what has been on sale recently," he explained.

Mr. Bizos says purchasers were incorrectly informed about the provenance of the artworks.

"He believes that his name has been abused," he said. "And also there is ample evidence submitted to the court, that people that bought were told that the Mandela Children's Fund and the Mandela Foundation, were beneficiaries, which was in fact incorrect."

Mr. Bizos says those who believe they have been sold unauthorized works will have recourse to the courts themselves if the South African courts find in Mr. Mandela's favor. He says that Mr. Mandela is deeply concerned about the impact of the developments on his charities.

"Well this was the purpose and we want to clear the air whilst he is alive because his legacy will be continued by the children's fund, the foundation and members of his family," he said.

In addition to the unauthorized sale of his artwork, Mr. Mandela charges that Mr. Ayob, who acted for him in family matters while he was imprisoned, has failed to properly account to the two charities and to the family trust for funds received on their behalf.

"Well a lot of it has been going to Mr. Calder and his companies," he said. "Some of it has been going into a company of which Mr. Ayob and his wife were directors, but there has been no proper accounting to Mr. Mandela, of how many have been sold, to whom, for how much, and what happened to all the money."

This is not the first time Mr. Mandela has had to take action to protect his name and his legacy, but Mr. Bizos told VOA that even though Mr. Mandela is extremely disappointed his belief in people overall remains strong.

"You know he believes in the fundamental goodness of human beings," said Nelson Mandela's attorney. "But unfortunately there are opportunists who make t-shirts and key rings, medallions, cuff links, all sorts of things without his authority, contrary to his copyright and his right to the use of his name.

And they have discovered and there is a firm of copyright and trademark attorneys that is looking into it, and they have tried successfully to stop a number of them from continuing to do so; but they spring up all over the place, but one would never have expected Mr. Mandela's attorney and Mr. Mandela's attorney's partner to have been responsible for this."

The case is expected to be heard on May 31.