JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – South Africa’s government, the ruling African National Congress and the state broadcaster came under fire Tuesday for releasing television footage of a frail Nelson Mandela during a visit by political big-wigs.
The images aired by public broadcaster SABC on Monday showed an unsmiling Mandela who appeared dazed, seated upright on a couch, with his legs covered in a blanket.
He was flanked by smiling ANC leaders including President Jacob Zuma, who said the ailing anti-apartheid icon was doing well and “up and about”.
South Africans took to social networks to accuse politicians of parading their 94-year-old hero in front of the cameras for their own gain, while he is still recuperating after a 10-day hospital stay.
“It must take a politician to do stuff like that, because no normal human being would do anything like that to an old man,” said political commentator Palesa Morudu.
The Nobel Peace laureate had returned home on April 6 after 10 days of being treated in hospital for a recurrent lung infection.
Mandela’s head was propped up by a pillow, he appeared to speak at one point and closed his eyes tight when someone in the room took a photo with flash.
Mandela’s eyesight is said to be highly sensitive to flashlight due to damage caused by the long time he spent working on a quarry during his imprisonment on Robben Island.
During his active political life photographers were given strict instructions not to use flashlights when photographing him.
“Very sad seeing the footage of Madiba. And who was the idiot who took a pic of him with a flash? Disgraceful. Leave him alone,” said popular radio DJ John Robbie, using Mandela’s clan name.
ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu defended the visit saying it was meant to share the revered leader with the world, following a series of hospitalisations since December last year.
“We wanted to share Madiba in his frail state… to show the people of South Africa and the world that he is still with us,” said Mthembu.
“He is no longer a younger man, he will soon turn 95-years-old and he looks like any other person his age.”
Patrick Conroy, the head of news at privately owned channel eNCA, complained that the ANC was using double standards.
“The media has been repeatedly lectured by the ANC and SA govt about respecting Madiba’s privacy and dignity. Now we know how they treat him,” he said on Twitter.