Over the years, former South African president Nelson Mandela has inspired a clothing line, pricey artworks and countless cheap souvenirs, all of which have fueled debate over the use of his image.
Now wine lovers can toast his name with the “House of Mandela” range launched by members of his family, a product that has raised fresh questions about the uses and abuses of the statesman’s legacy.
The label’s founders are adamant that the venture does not exploit him.
“This is not about Nelson Mandela, this is about the House of Mandela,” said Makaziwe Mandela, aged 59, his oldest living child, who started the label with her daughter, Tukwini. “The driving force for us is not only to get into the wine as a commercial entity. This is about honoring all those who have gone before us.”
Marketed in the US earlier this year, the label was started in 2010 with various winemakers selected in the country’s famed Cape vineyards.
The range’s premier collection consists of two reds and one white dubbed the “Royal Reserve”: A 2007 Syrah, a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2009 Chardonnay.
The two top-drawer reds sell for 399 rand (US$45), a hefty asking price in South Africa.
“The concept is very good, but I am not sure that the wines are that good for such a price. That’s the reality. They are too expensive,” said a wine seller who wanted to remain anonymous.
Technically, Mandela’s brand is copyrighted and his foundation has shut down several brazen attempts over the years to cash in on his revered global status. A court battle currently rages over the control of firms in his name.
Verne Harris, head of the Mandela Foundation’s memory program, said Mandela had wanted to avoid exploitation.
“The guidelines included things like ‘I don’t want my face on commercial products, I do not want to be associated with tobacco, alcohol,’ and so on,” he said.
Wine may be alcohol, but the reality is that the Mandela surname is carried by the younger generations, who have taken to projects such as winemaking and reality television.
“The name Mandela doesn’t belong to Nelson Mandela. It belongs to a family,” Harris said.
Not everyone thinks the wines are distasteful.
The Cabernet Sauvignon was judged an “outstanding” 4.5 out of five by South Africa’s well-known Platter guide. The other two got a four-point “excellent.”
“They are super premium wines, the quality matches the price and we are not shy about that,” Tukwini, 38, said.
Makaziwe agrees, saying the wine aimed to tell the story of the Mandela family’s royal roots.
“There is a regalness about Africa. It is not that everything that comes from Africa is substandard. There is good quality,” she said.
A sparkling wine has been added to the range, along with six entry-level wines to make the product more accessible, and a middle range.
Baptized the “Thembu Collection” after the Xhosa tribe that the family stems from, the lower-priced wines carry labels inspired by Mandela’s trademark colorful shirts.
The wines will be available in supermarkets, particularly in the US giant Walmart and at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
“It is your everyday drinking wine,” said Heather Engelbrecht, a sales representative of distributor Vinimark. “This is going to be big, probably in the next three years. If the quality of the wine is there, it is going to sell.”
In addition, a middle range called Vusani, made up of four reds, is mainly aimed at China.
The family’s wine entrepeneurs, who plan to donate part of profits to charity, believe the wine venture is part of their heritage.
“My grandfather gave us a great gift and we feel honor-bound to maintain his legacy,” Tukwini said. “We think that the wine project is a great project, it’s an honorable project and we’re not ashamed to use our name in any way. We fully embrace what we’re been given.”
The wine is meant to be shared while thinking about ways to contribute to a better world, Makaziwe said.
“We are proud of honoring our name — it is our legacy, it is our right,” she said. “As long as you do it with responsibility ... and integrity, we fully embrace our legacy, we are proud of it.”