South African police today detained the owner of a radio-controlled helicopter drone carrying a camera that was filming scenes around the Pretoria hospital where ailing anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela is being treated.
FC Hamman, a South African freelance film-maker, was escorted away by police along with the helicopter camera he was flying with his 21-year-old son Timothy outside the clinic where Mr Mandela (94) has spent three weeks with a lung infection.
"As far as I know, I didn't do anything wrong," Mr Hamman told Reuters by phone from the office in the hospital compound where he was taken by police. He said he was waiting to be interviewed by senior officers and for them to view the footage filmed.
“We were careful not to fly over the hospital,” Mr Hamman said.
He said he had intended to offer to media organisations the aerial shots of intense activity around the hospital, where crowds of jostling journalists have mingled with well-wishers paying tribute to South Africa’s former president.
The South African presidency yesterday released a statement saying the former president was showing some signs of improvement.
Mr Mandela’s former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela said this afternoon that he is showing “great improvement” compared to a few days ago.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela gave the update on the former president’s health today while speaking to media outside Mr Mandela’s former home in Soweto.
“I’m not a doctor but I can say that from what he was a few days ago there is great improvement,” said Ms Madikizela-Mandela, who is also a member of South Africa’s parliament.
Members of Nelson Mandela’s family and South African cabinet ministers have visited the hospital.
The intense media scrutiny has angered some of Mandela’s family. Daughter Makaziwe yesterday described foreign media as “vultures” for not respecting his privacy as he lay critically ill.
Mr Hamman said he had already used the home-built flying camera in other film projects and had also assisted police with surveillance work in operations against suspected drug-dealers in the crime-plagued Johannesburg suburb of El Dorado.
Police had not so far pressed any charges, he said.
“You can’t fly one of those things without a permit,” one police officer said at the hospital after Mr Hamman was escorted away. Pretoria police declined to comment further.
The incident came just hours before US president Barack Obama was due to start an official visit to South Africa, including stops in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Asked how he thought Mr Obama’s huge security detail might react if he launched the flying “eye in the sky” in the vicinity of the president, Mr Hamman chuckled: “That would be a mistake.”