People often romanticize the 38-year marriage of Nelson and Winnie Mandela. The thought of a strong woman waiting 27 years for her husband’s release sends shivers down the spine.
Executor Dikgang Moseneke brought the news to the public. There are no challenges to the will thus far. The will was created 10 years ago, and redone in 2005 and 2008. There is no word on how it was modified each time.
Nelson and Winnie met in 1957 and married in 1958. They were together for all of Mandela’s 27-year prison sentence, and separated after he became president of South Africa in 1994. The divorce was finalized two years later. Some say that Winnie’s controversial disposition would have made it nearly impossible for Nelson to have become president of a nation that was trying to heal from racial divides of the past.
Winnie paid her dues. She was known as the “Mother of the Nation” and suffered torture and imprisonment for standing up against apartheid. She also helped to lead the campaign that led to her husband being released. Without Winnie, there is no Nelson Mandela: There is no movement. There is no presidency. There is no wealth. Instead, he is just another inmate who spends the rest of his life in prison. Maybe that gives us all something to think about.
Financial Lovemaking lessons from this story:
1) While none of us knows exactly why Nelson and Winnie parted ways in such a cold and dramatic fashion, there is no denying that she remained married to him for 38 years while he was incarcerated for the majority of that time. Many women would have remarried in such a hopeless situation, but only the strongest woman can endure this kind of agony and remain committed to the man she loves. This fact alone is enough to argue that Mandela should never have removed Winnie from the will, no matter what she did. Bad things she did later down the road cannot negate the good things she did along the way.
2) This kind of thing happens regularly: A spouse stands with their partner through the tough times, and then when things get better, they part ways. A lot of Hollywood celebs get divorced after they become famous and have other options. This can put a strain on a relationship. While we hate to admit it, dating is really like a job market: If you’re accustomed to being paid $50,000 per year and suddenly have the chance to earn $200,000, you may stick with your employer out of loyalty. However, human nature dictates that your tolerance level for strains in your current relationship is going to be adjusted by the fact that you know you have other options. So, the things you might have put up with in the past might make you want to leave if you have a better place to go anyway. It happens all the time.
3) This move likely damages the legacy of Nelson Mandela, whether we like it or not. He probably should have considered this when writing his will and at least left Winnie a nominal portion of his estate as a thank you for so many years of service and support to both he and his causes. Many believe that, without Winnie Mandela’s strength, Nelson would never have been able to get out of prison and probably wouldn’t have had a chance to become president.
4) There are several reports that Winnie had other lovers during the time that Nelson was away at prison. This isn’t surprising, since 27 years is a very long and unnatural time to go without sleeping with anyone. Also, Winnie readily admits that she and Nelson never lived together before he went to prison and that he wasn’t even there for the births of their children. So, there may have been divides in the marriage that existed long before the divorce. But this again begs the question: If she was so detached from her husband, why didn’t Winnie divorce him when he went away to prison?
5) If Winnie did well during the divorce, there is a strong possibility that all financial matters were said and done 20 years ago. But I wonder if Nelson’s wealth right out of prison was the same as it is right now. One could argue that, again, Winnie has some rights to this wealth, the same way that an agent has a right to a percentage of a client’s income from deals that came from leads that the agent created. Winnie was Nelson’s primary agent and spokesperson while he was in prison, so you could say that she created much of what lies in front of us.
6) An easy counter-argument would be to say that because Winnie and Nelson were divorced and had new partners, they didn’t owe each other anything. This is a possibility, especially if she walked away from the marriage with a substantial cut of the family’s assets. But at the same time, you could say that their political power built over 40 years was like a business they’d created together, which Winnie maintained while Nelson was incarcerated. So, it’s difficult to defend the decision of any man to allow a woman to stand by him while he’s down and out and then to leave as soon as he is back on his feet. If he owes her nothing, then maybe he should have divorced her while he was in prison instead of costing her the best years of her life. She was loyal to Nelson when it cost her personally, so it’s hard to argue that he shouldn’t have stood by her when it cost him politically. But of course, this situation is up for interpretation; maybe it’s just every man for himself.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Financial Lovemaking 101: Merging Assets with Your Partner in Ways that Feel Good.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. This article was first published on Financial Juneteenth.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.