He is Africa’s most famous man, the subject of countless biographies and TV documentaries, his every move now scrutinised more closely than ever. But nobody seems to have any idea of how rich Nelson Mandela is, or where his money came from.

“I don’t know,” was the answer on Wednesday from the Nelson Mandela Foundation, from a leading South African newspaper editor and from a veteran journalist who has been reporting on Mandela for several decades.

One local journalist said: “Most South Africans have not wanted to ask. I know Mandela never had a hard time asking for money. He was known as the African National Congress’s greatest fundraiser.”

His personal finances remain shrouded in mystery. Some observers have suggested that, having lived without it for 27 years in prison, he was naive in money matters after his release. There have been claims of donations from wealthy businessmen.

Had cut his salary

But Mandela infact cut his presidential salary when he came to power in 1994, and handed over a further third of it as a regular donation to a children’s fund. His homes in Johannesburg and his ancestral village of Qunu are grand by local standards but hardly palatial.

George Bizos, Mandela’s longtime friend: “If anyone suggests he’s a multi-millionaire, they’re wrong. He has a couple of trusts for his children and grandchildren. His earnings are technically nil, other than the goodwill of people inside and outside South Africa who helped with the education of the children. He always insisted that money donated should be used for schools and hospitals.”— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013