Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the controversial ex-wife of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, is featured as a doting and beloved grandmother and materfamilias in “Being Mandela,” a new reality series chronicling the fashion-forward lives of sisters Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini, the granddaughters of Mr. Mandela, 94, and Madikizela-Mandela, 76, who divorced her ex-husband in 1996.
Mr. Mandela, the longtime political prisoner and former President of South Africa, does not appear in the 13-episode series, set to premiere Sunday on COZI TV, a national network launched by NBC Owned Television Stations.
However, Madikizela-Mandela, a fiery militant leader in the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, is reportedly an eager and commanding presence in the series based around her granddaughters’ lives in the limelight.
Known affectionately as “Big Mommy” to her granddaughters, Madikizela-Mandela publicly championed “necklacing” — burning people alive with gasoline-filled tires — as a technique of political resistance and has been convicted of serious crimes in South Africa, ranging from kidnapping and accessory to assault to fraud and theft.
“The series shows Big Mommy clearly taking charge of the family,” the Associated Press reports, noting the sisters are “closer” to their notorious grandmother than their revered grandfather. “She marches into the hospital room where Zaziwe gave birth to Zen with a list of possible names for the baby boy.”
In 1991 Madikizela-Mandela was convicted of kidnapping and accessory to assault for her role in the abduction and killing by underlings of 14-year-old James Seipei (aka Stompie Moeketsi), an accused informer, whose body was found in 1989 with stab wounds in his neck.
In 1997 the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigated allegations that Madikizela-Mandela, who still has a popular follwing in South Africa, had ordered the execution of family friend Dr. Abu-Baker Asvat, who had examined the captive Seipei prior to the youth’s death. While the inquiry was suspended amid alleged witness intimidation efforts directed by Madikizela-Mandela, the Commission’s 1998 final report deemed her “politically and morally accountable for the gross violations of human rights” committed by her personal security detail, the Mandela United Football Club (MUFC).
In 2003, after pleading inncocent to charges realated to improperly siphoning money from loan applicants, Madikizela-Mandela, known to her supporters as “the Mother of the Nation,” was convicted on 43 counts of fraud and 25 of theft. The theft conviction was later overturned on appeal, when her 5-year prison sentence was reduced to a 42-month suspended sentence for the intact fraud conviction.
In “Being Mandela,” the world-famous clan bonds and bickers, “especially Madikizela-Mandela,” reports the AP, who “loves to gossip about when Swati, the single mother of a 4-year-old daughter, is going to get married. Swati is furious when Zaziwe, despite being sworn to secrecy, blurts to their grandmother that her sister is dating someone.”
But for all of Big Mommy’s foibles, “She’s fun,” Zaziwe told the AP. “She never says no to us. I don’t think I’ve ever heard my grandmother say no to us.”