JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – South Africans voiced anger Tuesday over the release of television footage showing a frail and distant Nelson Mandela being visited at home by ANC leaders after his latest health scare.
The ruling ANC was forced to defend itself from accusations it was exploiting the 94-year-old anti-apartheid icon, who is recuperating after being hospitalised for a recurrent lung infection.
The images aired by state broadcaster SABC on Monday — the first public footage of the Nobel peace laureate in almost nine months — showed an unsmiling Mandela appearing dazed but seated upright on a couch, his legs covered in a blanket.
He was surround by ANC party leaders including President Jacob Zuma, who said Mandela was doing well and “up and about”.
South Africans took to social networks to accuse politicians of parading their national hero in front of the cameras for their own gain.
“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.
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. Mandela had returned home on April 6 after 10 days of hospital treatment for the lung infection.
“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.”
But there was an groundswell of anger about the allegedly political overtones of the visit.
Local newspaper the Star plastered page three with the headline “Outrage over Madiba footage,” while The Times ran the headline “SABC’s ‘Madiba moment’ slammed.”
The ANC’s visit came as the party and its opponents rev-up their campaigns for next year’s presidential election.
Both are keen to present themselves as torch bearers for South Africa’s freedom struggle, that has gone off the rails in recent years.
The Democratic Alliance — long seen as a party dominated by whites — recently launched a campaign highlighting its “struggle” credentials.
And the ANC, in power since 1994, has struggled to convince the public it is still the party of Mandela, amid widespread corruption, poverty and poor service delivery.
The party hit back at allegations of politicising Mandela’s ill health for its own gain, and the “determined efforts by some sections of our society to degrade the visit.”
“We maintain that President Mandela is a global icon, as the ANC we regard him as a leader of the people and we would want to keep the world informed of his condition.”
“There is no reason to be alarmed by the visuals of an elderly person who clearly is receiving the necessary care and attention.”
The ANC also criticised the media for focusing on criticism especially via social networks, amid allegations the party was guilty of 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,” Patrick Conroy, the head of news at privately-owned channel eNCA, said on Twitter.