Nelson Mandela is a globally recognized activist, former President of South Africa and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. He’s now also something entirely unexpected: the grandfather of two reality-television stars.
American audiences are now able to tune in to Being Mandela, a 13-part program being broadcast on NBC’s Cozi TV network that focuses on the lives of Mandela’s two 30-something granddaughters, Swati Dlamini and Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway.
Similar to the format of many other reality-television shows, Being Mandela is presented by Cozi TV as a 30-minute program that follows the trials and tribulations of family as they go about their lives. In a brief explainer, the channel says the program will follow “the next generation of this unique South African family,” giving the audience “a window into their daily lives.”
On a press tour before the launch of the show, the sisters, who spent much of their childhood in the U.S. and speak with distinctly American-tinged accents, explained that the program was an opportunity to show the world that they really are “just a regular family” as well as a chance to show U.S. audiences a look inside modern-day South Africa.
Highlights are said to include an emotional visit to Robben Island, the prison where their grandfather spent part of his 27 years imprisoned by the apartheid regime. The two sisters explained that this was the first time they visited the prison since his imprisonment. Dlamini-Manaway also meets the prison guard who she says allowed her into the prison as a baby so that Mandela could hold her.
Their 94-year-old grandfather, who was recently hospitalized for a lung infection, makes no appearances in the show, although he’s mentioned throughout. The clothing line that the two sisters launched with their brother is named after his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom.
The producers of Being Mandela claim that unlike many other reality-TV dramas, no part of the series is scripted. “They were very vocal about what they like and don’t like about reality TV,” says executive producer Jonathan Zager. “Some of American reality TV goes too far and people are cast to behave in a certain way. This show isn’t that.”
Both Dlamini and Dlamini-Manaway are also keen to point out that the show was done with their grandparents’ blessing. Speaking with the Associated Press, Dlamini explains that they are both asked a lot about whether doing something like this would tarnish the family name:
But our grandparents have always said to us, this is our name too, and we can do what we think is best fitting with the name, as long as we treat it with respect and integrity.
She also revealed that her grandfather also likes watching reality TV occasionally — and that he is a fan of the TLC children’s-beauty-pageant show Toddlers & Tiaras. Her sister is quick to add that that is “because of the kids. He just loves children.”
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