The African National Congress (ANC) has rejected as ”regrettable” criticism from the Nelson Mandela Foundation over former president Nelson Mandela’s recent appearance at a party rally.
”The ANC would not put the life of Madiba at risk. He wanted to attend an ANC rally together with the president [Jacob Zuma],” said ANC election campaign manager Fikile Mbalula on Monday.
Mbalula’s comments followed a Sunday Times report that the party had abused the elderly Mandela for electioneering purposes to attend the rally in the Eastern Cape last weekend.
The newspaper reported that the foundation, which has managed Mandela’s travel arrangements since he stepped down as president in 1999, was unaware of the visit until late on the day before he attended.
Foundation chairperson Jakes Gerwal told the newspaper: ”We were not aware that he was going until almost the last minute. We were taken as much by surprise as many other people.”
Gerwal also told the newspaper that the usual considerations for Mandela’s security or physical comfort were not taken into consideration.
Mbalula told a media briefing in Johannesburg on Monday that Gerwal had ”an open invitation to meet the ANC if he has a problem with the congress and movement”.
He said the foundation’s comments were ”regrettable and uncalled for” and ”damning and dangerous to say the least”.
He said the party did not believe it was its duty to inform the foundation about Mandela’s appearance at the rally, because it thought the foundation already knew about it.
”They knew about the trip and could stop it if they wanted to,” he said.
However, he also said the ANC did not believe it bore any responsibility to inform the foundation about Mandela’s appearance.
”We took it for granted that they knew because it was the old man’s wish [to attend].”
Mbalula said Madiba and ANC leaders were free to meet each other when they so wished.
”None of the ANC leaders seek permission from the family and foundation to meet Madiba.”
Mbalula said he would describe the relationship between the ANC and the foundation as ”dynamic”, adding ”it flows”.
”So for us to deserve such a scathing attack, we were taken by surprise.”
‘Disrespectful and denigrating’
Mbalula said the ANC had written a letter to the foundation on Monday raising its concerns about the comments and asking to meet in order to understand the problem.
Mbalula said there had been no problems with regard to travel procedures.
”Mandela was with his security. They knew about this. If there were any discrepancies about this, we were not aware of them
”Everything went well. The plane was a good one. We did not encounter any other hindrance. Nothing occurred untoward that suggested the life of Madiba was put at risk.
”It is disrespectful and denigrating to expect Mandela at 90 to walk straight like a 25-year-old.”
Mbalula said there were no plans to include Mandela in the overall campaign strategy any further.
”Even to question Mandela’s membership to the ANC is insulting to the memory of Mandela as he basically is still alive,” he said.
Mbalula said he could not sleep after the Sunday Times said it was Mbalula, along with Mandela’s grandson, chief Mandla Mandela, who fetched Mandela from his Houghton home early in the morning.
”I am supposed to be the one who kidnapped him or abducted him.”
He said if this had been true, Mandela’s speech at the rally would have been different.
”He would have said ‘I am shocked to be amongst you here. It has taken me by surprise’,” said Mbalula.
He said when it came to any election campaign, ”It is going to have surprises.”
He said the ANC did not inform the public about Mandela’s appearance because it did not want it to seem as if they were trying to ”woo” voters. Instead they were just fulfilling Mandela’s wishes.
Asked whether Thabo Mbeki would be making any election campaign appearances, Mbalula said ”We are still looking forward for that … We have not heard anything from his side and we respect that.”
On Monday, the chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Achmat Dangor, said the foundation was looking forward to receiving the letter the ANC said was en route to them.
”We look forward to receiving the letter which we believe sets out ways of resolving differences between the ANC and the foundation over the way Mr Mandela’s appearance at an ANC rally in the Eastern Cape was managed.”
Dangor said it was ”counterproductive” to communicate about the issue via the media.
Instead, the foundation had on Monday requested to meet ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.
”The ANC has always been a key stakeholder of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and we hope to discuss with the ANC leadership, inter alia, the protocols that guide the management of Mr Mandela’s appearance and travel to out-of-office events,” he said. — Sapa