It’s not easy being a Mandela.
As Nelson Mandela’s granddaughters Swati Dlamini and Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway tell it, being the offspring of one of the world’s most beloved figures isn’t always a privileged existence. And, the expectations are tremendous. “People expect certain things from you and hold you to a high standard,” says Swati Dlamini. “They almost hold us to the same standard as our grandfather.”
The two sisters, whose grandmother is freedom fighter Winnie Mandela, have opened up their world to international viewers on their new COZI TV reality show, Being Mandela. They spoke with ESSENCE.com about daring to venture into the reality TV space, the pressure of being a Mandela, and how they feel about all the speculation surrounding their grandfather’s health.
ESSENCE.com: What will people learn about you on this show?
DLAMINI-MANAWAY: That we're just real people. That we're like everybody else. We have the same struggles, and ambitions. And that although we come from this family that's so powerful, nothing is handed to us on a silver platter. Nothing is easy. Also, people also have a bad perception of what South Africa is and we want to change that. They'll get to see a different side of the country.
SWATI DLAMINI: People will see how far we've come thanks to what our grandparents fought for. February is a very significant month for us in South Africa. It marks 23 years since my grandfather was released from prison. It's our Human Rights Month. It's Black History Month for African-Americans. So it's a look at your history and the fact that we can enjoy certain freedoms.
ESSENCE.com: What do you think people's misconceptions of you are?
DLAMINI: Because we are considered a first family, people think that life is easier for us. It's easier in some senses, but generally, we work hard. I'm a single mom and have the same struggles any other woman in my situation would.
ESSENCE.com: Your grandfather was released from prison on February 11, 1990 after 27 years in prison. Was that the first time you met him?
DLAMINI-MANAWAY: No, we had been able to visit. I was the first grandchild that he saw in prison. One of the wardens smuggled me into prison. You'll see that on the show. We'd see him throughout the years when my grandmother, Winnie, was allowed to see him. We knew who he was.
ESSENCE.com: Is it a lot of pressure to be a Mandela?
DLAMINI: It is. People expect certain things from you and hold you to a high standard. They almost hold us to the same standard as our grandfather. For instance, people assume that we should naturally go into politics. People have these unrealistic expectation of who we are. We're not allowed to make mistakes. If you're out on the streets acting crazy, people say things like, 'What would your grandfather say?' So, it can be very hard.
ESSENCE.com: There's always a media frenzy every time your grandfather is not well. How do you feel about that?
DLAMINI-MANAWAY: We basically stick together as a family. We don't listen to the media, we don't watch the news. We understand that the whole world loves our grandfather and they worry about him. But, you know, it's still difficult to hear the conversation immediately turn to him dying. He goes into hospital, he's 95 years old so it's natural for him to get sick. We think we're the only family where the grandfather gets sick and the whole world stops and says, ‘This is it!'
ESSENCE.com: How often do you get to see him?
DLAMINI-MANAWAY: We see him whenever we want to. He hasn't been part of our lives for a very long time so now that he's older, this is the time we get to see him. We're literally in and out of his home whenever we want to. My son is very close to him.
ESSENCE.com: How often do you see your grandmother Winnie?
DLAMINI: You'll see her a lot on the show. She's very important to us. She's still very vibrant, and fiery. I see her literally every single day.
ESSENCE.com: Tell us something about her that we don't know.
DLAMINI-MANAWAY: She's very funny. She's always got something to say about somebody.
DLAMINI: She doesn't know how to say no. She will literally go out of her way to do anything for us. She always says it's because she was so involved in the struggle for freedom that she couldn't be a normal mom to her children so she's making up for that with us. She's so strong. She's my hero, really.
Catch Being Mandela on Cozi TV, Sundays at 9pm.