Sun, Nov 01, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Mandela to leave public life amid health concerns


Former South African president Nelson Mandela is to withdraw almost entirely from public life, it was announced on Friday, after growing speculation about the 91-year-old’s health.

The nation’s first black president quipped “Don’t call me, I will call you,” when he formally retired five years ago, but continued to grace political rallies and other special events.

Mandela, however, “recently decided to cut back his engagements even further and spend more time with his family,” said Jakes Gerwel, who chairs the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

The statement came after a week of rumors in South African political and media circles that Mandela was in hospital and possibly nearing the end of his life.

The highly sensitive subject is rarely discussed openly, although occasional controversies erupt around the plans for his funeral.

“There has been a great deal of speculation recently about the state of Mr Mandela’s health, to the extent where rumors have even been spread that he is extremely ill,” Gerwel said.

“The fact is that Mr Mandela is as well as anyone can expect of someone who is 91 years old and who has lived an active and demanding life as he has. He obviously needs to rest more than he has in the past, and indeed to do the things that he enjoys in his well-deserved retirement,” he said.

The statement said Mandela had always been transparent about his health. He made a public announcement in 2001 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“People everywhere can therefore be assured that Mr Mandela and his family will continue this trend and will keep the public informed should there be any significant deterioration in his health. In the meantime, we appeal to all concerned to respect Mr Mandela’s privacy and that of his family. The endless speculation often leads to intrusive questioning of those around him,” Gerwel said.

Mandela’s grandson this week laughed off the speculation, saying he had had breakfast with the former president and there was no cause for alarm.

“I’ve been with my grandfather this morning,” Mandla Zwelivelile Mandela said. “There is nothing wrong with him. The old man is elderly now and has routine check-ups — and people get excited about it.”

The foundation, which seeks to protect Mandela’s name and schedule, this week rebuked Hollywood actor Charlize Theron after she reportedly auctioned a meeting with him at a charity event.

Theron sold a trip to the 2010 World Cup, a meeting with Mandela and a kiss from her for US$140,000.

The foundation said: “A very strict process needs to be followed to get a meeting with Mandela. Not even the charity foundations Mandela himself established are allowed to auction off time with him.”

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