Makaziwe: Foreign coverage of Madiba smacks of racism

A 1990 file image of former president Nelson Mandela. (AFP)

A 1990 file image of former president Nelson Mandela. (AFP)

Makaziwe Mandela, the oldest daughter of Nelson Mandela and emerging family matriarch, on Thursday lashed out at especially the foreign media for the coverage of her father's health, saying it smacked of racism.

While she flatly refused to provide details on his health during a studio interview with SABC, referring such questions to the presidency, she said Mandela apparently took a turn for the worse but the family had not entirely lost hope for a recovery.

"He doesn't look good  ...  I'm not going to lie," she told the state broadcaster in an interview broadcast at lunchtime. "But I think that for us as children and grandchildren we still have hope because when we talk to him he'll try to open his eyes ... When you touch him he still responds."

Makaziwe used most of the rare interview to criticise the media coverage of Mandela's health, repeatedly and animatedly criticising the intrusive nature of reporting.

"The fact that my dad is a global icon, one of the 25 influential people of the 21st century, does not mean that people cannot respect the privacy and dignity of my dad. I don't want to say this, but I'm going to say it. There is sort of a racist element with many of the foreign media where they just cross boundaries."

'Vultures hovering over a carcass'
She then compared media stationed outside the Heart Mediclinic Hospital in Pretoria, where Mandela is being treated, to vultures hovering over the carcass of a lion.

"At this point as a family, as an African, I know that at this time you have to be at peace ... you have to have a sense of decorum. That is what is required. I don't know how people come here and just violate everything in the book ... Is this because we are an African country?"

Asked about the hunger for detail on Madiba's health from the South African public, Makaziwe said there was no similar coverage of the failing health of Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan. "I have never seen it in the history of the world."

She similarly criticised reporting on activity around what may become Mandela's gravesite near his home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape – and indicated that the site would not be a place of pilgrimage open to the public.

"Family graveyards ... they're not for the public. They are for public once you've buried a loved one and you invite people to that. And that is the end. After that it becomes strictly a family's sacred place."

The interview came as much of the family are at the Pretoria hospital, including elders from his village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape, while President Jacob Zuma cancelled a scheduled trip to Mozambique after a visit to the hospital on Monday night.

Meanwhile, hundreds of South Africans gathered outside the hospital to bid farewell to the former statesman after he was rumoured by international media on Wednesday night to have died. However, Mandela's grandchildren addressed the media at the entrance of the hospital on Thursday morning to report that the father of the nation is still alive, although he is "in a critical but stable condition".

The grandchildren collected flowers left by supporters and took them into the hospital before leaving a few minutes later.

ANC and South African Communist Party supporters dressed in military pants and caps sang struggle songs with fists in the air for the most part of the morning. Supporters sang songs while they hanged up an ANC flag with Mandela's face in the middle.

Scored of artists brought fresh portraits of Madiba, while other artists brought clean canvases to paint on just near the entrance. Scores of children bearing flowers and clad in ANC flags were brought in by their families.

Presidency spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, said President Jacob Zuma cancelled his trip to Mozambique for a regional summit, creating the impression that Mandela's situation is very critical.

The family showed their gratitude to everyone that came to the hospital and to those who continued to pray for them.

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet writes about politics, society, economics, and the areas where these collide. He has never been anything other than a journalist, though he has been involved in starting new newspapers, magazines and websites, a suspiciously large percentage of which are no longer in business. PGP fingerprint: CF74 7B0F F037 ACB9 779C 902B 793C 8781 4548 D165
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  • Khuthala Nandipha

    Khuthala Nandipha

    Khuthala Nandipha is a journalist for the Mail & Guardian. This involves writing about various social issues that develop and change on an hourly basis. Her interests are, in a nutshell, how South Africa and the world’s revolution affect the person on the street: “the forgotten voting citizens”, as she calls them. She loves writing, and taking photos as a way to complement her stories. She grew up on the south-east coast of East London in the Eastern Cape. She studied journalism at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. She is not new to Jo’burg, having spent the first eight years of her journalism career working for various newspapers and magazines there.
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