The Nelson Mandela Foundation has hit back at criticism that it lied about the former South African president’s health.
The foundation was under siege last week when it emerged that Mandela had been taken to hospital. Its failure to issue anything beyond a two-sentence statement, combined with a long silence from other official bodies, was widely described as a public relations disaster that allowed rumors to fester.
The government has now stepped in to deal with the huge interest in the anti-apartheid hero’s recovery. South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said yesterday that Mandela “had a restful and peaceful night” and “is said to be responding to medication and treatment” at his home in Johannesburg.
Weekend reports suggested that the foundation has been marginalized after losing an unseemly “turf war” with the government and the Mandela family. The increasingly ugly fallout has raised fears over how Mandela’s eventual death will be handled.
Under the headline “Mandela — the making of an unnecessary crisis” Makhudu Sefara, editor of South Africa’s Sunday Independent, wrote on Sunday that the foundation’s spokesman, Sello Hatang, apparently sought to “mislead the nation” by describing the medical tests carried out on Mandela as routine.
“When you create suspicion in so amateurish a manner, that is when you make journalists eager to uncover the truth ... they’ll want to understand why you find it necessary to lie,” Sefara said.
The foundation issued a detailed rebuttal condemning a “scurrilous [and] unwarranted personal attack” on Hatang.
Achmat Dangor, its chief executive, said the term “routine tests” was agreed with Mandela’s daughter Zindzi, who was inundated with media queries and urging the foundation to issue a statement. Dangor claimed Mandela himself described it as a “routine check-up” to former South African president Thabo Mbeki, when on his way to hospital. Surgeon-general Vejay Ramlakan also used the term at a press briefing on Friday, he said.
Dangor said: “For Mr Sefara to accuse Sello Hatang of personally misleading the nation and of being a liar is a gross injustice, and indeed an abuse of Sefara’s privileged position. This was not an interview, but an op-ed that provided neither Sello nor the foundation an opportunity to respond timeously.”
“Makhudu Sefara owes Sello Hatang an apology. Sefara should also sit quietly for a moment and reflect on whether his shooting from the hip approach contributes in any way to the lessons we can learn from the turmoil of the last few days,” Dangor said.
Political commentator Justice Malala wrote in South Africa’s the Times: “First there was the two-line statement by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, saying the man had gone into hospital for routine tests. Communications lesson No. 1: don’t lie. The truth will come back and bite you.”