R Munusamy: Mandela's final wishes

All of Nelson Mandela's descendants were present in the room when his last will and testament was read on Monday morning in Johannesburg. In order that the world did not see their faces, the media contingent was kept temporarily locked in the auditorium as the family left the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. Considering the subliminal messages Mandela communicated in the will, it is not surprising that they did not want to be seen. Contrary to expectations that they would receive a substantial inheritance, Mandela's estate is relatively modest. He left no cash amounts to any of his children and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and put in place legal safety nets to prevent his estate from being squandered.

Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke read out excerpts from Nelson Mandela's will at a media conference, which spelt out the devolution of the founding president's estate to his family, staff and education institutions. Moseneke, an executor of Mandela's estate along with Advocate George Bizos and Eastern Cape Judge President Themba Sangoni, has a very formal, judicious manner and distinguished voice.

But if you closed your eyes and listened to the words, you could almost hear Mandela's inimitable voice, occasionally pausing for dramatic effect and emphasising certain words. When you see his well-known signature at the bottom of every page of the will, you can imagine him sitting at his desk, reading the document with that sombre look on his face, lips pursed in an upside down smile, nodding slowly at phrasing he particularly approved of.

When Mandela executed the will on 12 October 2004, it was just a few months after he announced his retirement from public life at the age of 85. Three months earlier, he had flown to Bangkok to speak at the XV International Aids Conference. He was therefore able to declare in the document that he was "in health of body and of sound and disposing mind, memory and understanding, and capable of doing any act that requires thought, judgment and reflection".

Anyone wanting to contest the will would need to challenge that particular declaration and argue that Mandela was not of sound mind when he drew up the will. But an appraisal of the executive summary released by the executors reveals that Mandela thought hard about what he wanted to leave to whom from his estimated R46 million estate.

There are also insights into his line of thought in terms of how the estate is disbursed. Mandela's love and respect for Graca Machel, who kept vigil by his bedside as his health deteriorated, is evident in the will. Machel, who is entitled to half of the estate as their marriage was in community of property, is given the option to waive this claim. If she does, the two children she had with former Mozambican President Samora Machel, Josina and Malengane Machel, would each receive R3 million. Mandela also left R100,000 each to the six children from Samora Machel's previous marriage.

Graca Machel will also receive ownership of four properties in Mozambique, as well as art, motor vehicles she uses, the jewellery in her possession and all money in the accounts registered to her. What this means is that Machel will receive all that she is rightly entitled to if she doesn't get into a scrap over the estate. Machel, who is currently in mourning at the Houghton home where Mandela died in December, is said to be trying by all means to avoid confrontation with the Mandela children.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who was married to Mandela for 38 years, was omitted as a beneficiary. Although Winnie was regularly around Mandela in the latter years of his life, and had a prominent place at family events, he did not leave her anything. This is likely to infuriate Winnie, who resents not being acknowledged for her role in supporting Mandela and keeping his legacy alive during his imprisonment.

And yet, in his final act from the grave, Mandela let Winnie go.

Mandela vested the estate and his three trusts to some of the country's top legal minds and trusted friends, who now stand as the guardians. Apart from being an executor of the will, Bizos serves on two of the three trusts. ANC stalwart Tokyo Sexwale, Sangoni, Mandela's lawyer Bally Chuene, Advocate Wim Trengove and former Nedbank CEO Richard Laubscher also serve on the trusts.

The will revealed that Mandela's daughters Makaziwe, Zenani and Zindzi had already received USD300,000 each from their father while he was alive, and he therefore left no money to them from the estate. He had also given the same amount to his eldest son Makgatho, who died in 2005, as well as to his granddaughters Ndileka and Nandi, the children of Thembekile, who died while Mandela was in prison.

Most of Mandela's other grandchildren each received R100,000 each. However, Makgatho's four sons, Mandla, Ndaba, Mbuso and Andile, receive USD300,000 each. Strangely, though, Mandla and Ndaba's inheritance was left to the Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (NRM) Family Trust to decide whether the two grandsons should receive the capital and interest. No conditions are attached to Mbuso and Andile's inheritance.

The executive summary states that Mandela wished that his executors should consult with Machel and three of his children Makgatho (deceased), Makaziwe and Zenani Mandela on important decisions and family matters. This consultation should, however, not fetter with the functions and powers of the executors. Strangely, Mandela excluded his only other child, Zindzi, from the consultation. A further odd provision is that the R100,000 each bequeathed to Zindzi's four children should be paid to Graca Machel to give to them at her discretion.

The only amendments Mandela made to the will relate to his Houghton property. In the original version, he states that during his lifetime, he provided accommodation to all of his children except Makgatho, and therefore wanted his son to occupy the property. After Makgatho's death, Mandela executed a codicil which then gave Mandla Mandela (Makgatho's eldest son) the right to occupy the Houghton property. In 2007, Mandla became the chief of the Mvezo Traditional Council and was to live full-time in the Eastern Cape. Mandela made a further codicil in September 2008 allowing his grandsons Ndaba, Mbuso and Andile to live at the house.

In all three versions relating to the Houghton home, Mandela says it was his wish that it serve as place of gathering of his family - the final version says "Mandela and Machel family" - "in order to maintain its unity long after death".

Regarding Mandela's Qunu home, the will states that the NRM Family Trust should administer the home for the benefit of the Mandela family and Machel and her two children. "The Qunu property should be used by family in perpetuity in order to preserve the unity of the Mandela family."

These expressions are a great irony considering the factional battles within the Mandela family while Mandela was seriously ill and the tensions which played out before his funeral, particularly when Makaziwe locked Mandla out of the Qunu house. By putting such clauses repeatedly in the will, Mandela was indicating that he knew his offspring would fight each other and was trying to encourage reconciliation between them. Whether they would now respect his wishes remains to be seen.

Moseneke said the mood of the Mandela family when the will was read was "charged with emotions but it went well." "There were clarifications sought from time to time," he said. There were no immediate indications from the family that the will would be contested. They still have access to funds in the trust, which accrues money from the sale of the Mandela artworks and investments. It is not known what the value of this trust is but the family members have to make representations to the trustees if they want to access these funds.

Moseneke says they have to study the will carefully for implications for all trusts. If members of the family do contest the will on whatever grounds, it will be a messy court battle that could drag on for years. It will be the final insult to Mandela's last wishes.

Mandela left funds to people and institutions close to his heart. His close personal staff, including personal assistant Zelda la Grange, each received R50,000. It was Mandela's final act of gratitude to those who took care of him through the years and went mostly unacknowledged during his celebrated life and death.

The schools he attended in the Eastern Cape, Fort Hare and Wits Universities, as well as Qunu Secondary School and Orlando West High School, all will receive R100,000 each. These are to be used for scholarships and bursaries. Building schools was Mandela's pet project since he was president, famously roping in the country's top corporates to build rural schools. By leaving money to educational institutions, he was signalling what those wanting to uphold his legacy should invest in.

The NRM Family Trust received R1.5 million plus royalties. Mandela's political home, the African National Congress is to receive between 10 and 30% of the royalties at the discretion of the trustees of the NRM Family Trust. But the condition on this provision spoke volumes.

"The royalty payments must be used at the discretion of the African National Congress national executive committee for the purpose of recording and/or dissemination information on African National Congress principles and policies since 1912, particularly on the policies and principles of reconciliation amongst the people of South Africa."

It was Nelson Mandela saying to his organisation that they should remember the mission and values of their founders and teach these to future generations. He was asking them to look back from where they had strayed. He was also telling them to continue with the reconciliation project he drove so passionately to build a united nation.

The last will and testament was the final word from Nelson Mandela.

In the foyer of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory is a television screen showing images of his life and tributes after his death, while the moving hymn Amazing Grace sung by a choir echoes from the speaker.

A verse of the hymn is:

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease,

I shall possess within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.

Mandela did not possess much. His estate is minimal for a man of his stature - to contextualise, the provisional value is one-fifth the cost of the security upgrades to President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla residence. He had the world at his feet after he was released from prison but he chose not to use his position to amass his own wealth.

The last will and testament is a symbolic disbursement of his assets and funds. Throughout his life, Mandela gave his all. Those who squandered what he gave them will be perpetually in search of more. And those who cherish what he left us are the true beneficiaries of the life and amazing grace of Nelson Mandela.

This column appeared on Daily Maverick.