Wed, Jun 02, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Mandela becomes S Africa's latest pensioner, finally

THE GUARDIAN , PRETORIA

Since stepping down as South African president five years ago, Nelson Mandela has joked of being a retired pensioner, but that was only true from yesterday.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg is expected to announce a drastic scaling down of his commitments to allow him to spend more time with his family, and reportedly to complete his memoirs.

Mandela will not completely vanish from public life but his hectic schedule of daily engagements, from raising funds for charity to bolstering government diplomacy, is to end.

The man South Africans know by his clan name, Madiba, turns 86 next month and is a frail figure compared to the one who strode from prison in 1990 to shepherd the country from apartheid to multiracial democracy.

"We are all looking forward to Madiba's retirement," the foundation said. "We want him to get more rest because he has been doing too many things. We are looking after him like a father."

His wife, Graca Machel, is understood to have pushed for him to turn his self-deprecating line about being an unemployed pensioner into reality.

Last month he told a South African journalist: "I may not have many years left to live. I have been told to scale down my activities by the end of the month."

He has squeezed as much as possible into the past few weeks, giving a swansong address to the opening of parliament, flying to Zurich to help in clinching South Africa's bid to host the 2010 World Cup and then on to Spain for the royal wedding.

He used a meeting with boxing promoter Don King last week to offer an olive branch of sorts to US President George W. Bush, saying that the US had a positive international role to play despite the Iraq war, which he condemns.

Yesterday he opened the Rebatla Thuto secondary school in the Free State, one of at least 140 partly funded by three foundations that bear his name.

Mandela's fundraising efforts -- phoning businesspeople informally to make a request for donations -- known in South Africa as his "breakfast calls" -- have raised millions to combat HIV-AIDS. But officials acknowledged funding may slacken if it is not Mandela making the call.

But a spokesman for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) welcomed the news that its former leader would slow down.

"We still need him in our midst, and anything that can help him strengthen his health is welcomed by us," Smuts Ngonyama said.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, too, will be relieved if his predecessor curtails his comments on combating HIV-AIDS, an epidemic ravaging the country, and which Mbeki is accused of neglecting.

However, Mandela might sting the president if his time off allows him to complete the second part of his memoir, Long Walk to Freedom, covering his 1994 to 1999 term in office and Mbeki's subsequent rule. But few expect a hatchet job from a loyal party man who once said the first thing he would do in heaven would be to join the local ANC branch.

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