/ 23 February 2009

ANC defends Mandela’s appearance at rally

Former president Nelson Mandela ”is no longer a prisoner” and could attend any election rally he wanted to, the ANC said on Monday.

”It’s very clear that Mr Mandela is no longer a prisoner … He’s not a prisoner. He wanted to go to a rally in the Eastern Cape. That was Mr Mandela’s decision and his call,” African National Congress spokesperson Jessie Duarte told South African Broadcasting Corporation radio.

”We, the ANC, would never risk Madiba’s life,” she added.

Her comments followed a Sunday Times report that the party had used the elderly Mandela for electioneering purposes to attend a rally in the Eastern Cape.

ANC leader Jacob Zuma said at the weekend that Mandela had requested to attend a rally in his home province.

But Sunday Times associate editor Brendan Boyle said the way in which Mandela turned up at the rally was ”clearly unusual”.

Boyle told the SABC that Mandela’s attendance was an ”unprecedented break in procedure”.

Normally, among other things, Mandela would travel with a doctor after undergoing a medical examination and a helicopter would be on stand-by for any emergency.

Boyle also said it was unprecedented that the Nelson Mandela Foundation was not involved in the arrangements.

”How this trip was arranged, we don’t know,” said Boyle.

Duarte said the ANC did not want to alert the media to Mandela’s planned presence at the rally last weekend because it was not sure ”until the very last moment that indeed Madiba would come”.

”We did not want to raise expectations,” said Duarte.

ANC president Jacob Zuma also rejected claims that the party had used Mandela for electioneering purposes.

”Mandela wanted to be at that rally. He requested a meeting with me back in Gauteng and asked that a rally be organised in the Eastern Cape for him to attend. When I told him we should rather organise one in Gauteng, he said no, I want to go to Idutywa,” Zuma told thousands of people at the party’s election rally in Khayelitsha, Cape Town on Sunday.

He came out strongly against newspapers that ”talk about us like they know us and don’t even ask what happened”.

”Who are they? The ANC is Madiba’s ANC. What is discussed between him and us his volunteers is none of their business … they should be ashamed.”

”They think they know Madiba more than we do … who are these people? We know him better. Madiba does not belong to a foundation but the ANC.”

Zuma said an ”angry” Mandela decided to stand up and take action after seeing what was happening in his organisation. – Sapa