On Monday 29 April, millions of South Africans were shocked to see a visibly frail Nelson Mandela sitting awkwardly on a couch alongside President Jacob Zuma on national television. The ANC had decided to visit the ailing former president of the party and they brought the SABC cameras with them. In the exclusive broadcast, President Zuma is seen smiling and holding former President Mandela’s hand while Mandela is silent and has a pillow to support his head while cameras flash with one cellphone clicking away right in front of his face.
Social network platforms came alive that day with some South Africans happy to see the former president since he left the public eye. Others were disgusted that the ANC had paraded the freedom icon in front of the whole world despite his obvious deteriorating state of health. They felt that Nelson Mandela needed to be left alone to rest and recover after several hospital stays in recent months.
According to media reports on Sunday, Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela spoke openly about how that visit affected the family. She recalled the incident and said: “I honestly cannot put in words how hurt the family was and it was one of the most insensitive things anyone could have done.”
Madikizela-Mandela continued: “It was insensitive. It compromised the family. It compromised his dignity. It should never have been done.” The ‘Mother of the Nation’, as Madikizela-Mandela is fondly called, was emotional when she spoke to the media about how the leadership of ANC showed disregard for the best interests of Nelson Mandela and his family.
Shortly after the broadcast, the ANC denied allegations that the visit was a publicity stunt ahead of next year’s elections. The ANC assured the nation that the controversial Mandela visit was nothing more than the party paying respect to an elder and showing the country that Mandela is indeed alive and well.
Besides the sentiments that it was disrespectful to make the former president appear on live television when he should have rather been recovering in peace, many questioned the timing of the broadcast. The ANC arranged the visit soon after the DA had launched the ‘Know Your DA’ campaign. The campaign’s intention is to educate people about the active role that the DA played in the liberation struggle. As part of the launch, the DA unveiled a poster depicting Helen Suzman and Nelson Mandela embracing.
The ANC was offended by the implications of the poster and the usual war of words between the two parties ensued. The DA retaliated that the ANC did not “own the struggle”. It was during this exchange that the ANC invited the media to the Mandela residence in Johannesburg and triggered the incident that deeply saddened the Mandela family.