Media urged to respect Mandela’s privacy

ANC call comes after claims a ban exists on visiting ailing ex-president

A newspaper  vendor in Soweto yesterday. Nelson Mandela was hospitalised early on Saturday.  Photograph: Reuters

A newspaper vendor in Soweto yesterday. Nelson Mandela was hospitalised early on Saturday. Photograph: Reuters

Tue, Jun 11, 2013, 01:00

As former South African president Nelson Mandela was preparing to spend a fourth night in hospital yesterday, the ruling party once again urged media organisations to stop speculating about his health and to respect his privacy.

The call came after tensions mounted between the media and the African National Congress in the morning after a local newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying the Mandela family had banned everyone, including senior party officials, from visiting the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Mr Mandela, who is 95 next month, has been in a hospital in Pretoria since Saturday morning where he is being treated for a recurring lung infection.

The presidency confirmed he was receiving intensive care.

The anti-apartheid leader has been hospitalised four times since December, primarily due to this ailment. And, at times the government and Mandela family have had problems with the media coverage that followed.

Such is the public interest in Mr Mandela’s wellbeing that local and international media have been camped outside the Pretoria hospital as well as his Johannesburg home waiting for updates on his condition.

However, other than two brief statements from the presidency – one issued on Saturday morning and the other yesterday that said he remains in a serious but stable condition, little detail about his ailment has been forthcoming.

During this information vacuum the Star newspaper, which is based in Johannesburg, ran an article in which it said it had learned that Mr Mandela’s family issued a visiting ban once his health deteriorated at the weekend.

‘Holding on to life’
“They believe visitors are at best a distraction to efforts to keep him comfortable or at worst leak information to the media. Three highly-placed government sources told the Star on Sunday that Mandela’s condition was “scary”, but he was “still holding on to life,” claimed the daily newspaper.

Shortly after the article appeared the ANC released a statement in which it dismissed the report.

“We have spoken to the family about this report and they deny that they issued such an instruction or spoke to the media on barring the ANC and government from visiting Madiba [Mr Mandela’s clan name],” said ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu.

“What we know is that given the pressure associated with the admission of president Mandela, there are general restrictions that permit only relevant people to have access.

“We call on all media houses and journalists to treat Madiba’s health as a serious matter and stop making unwarranted speculations. We request the media to give the Madiba the privacy and respect they deserve at this time.”

Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj also denied that visitors were being blocked from seeing Mr Mandela.

“There are limitations on visitors. And you know that when a person is in intensive care the doctors only allow some very close people to be there. It is not the way it is being presented in the media.”

The relationship between the ANC-led government and media in relation to the coverage of Mr Mandela’s health has been strained since 2011.

After a meeting between representatives of both groups in 2012 a compromise involving regular updates in return for an increase in media sensitivity was reached. But it appears this agreement has become strained in some quarters.