South Africans voiced anger on Tuesday over the release of TV footage showing a frail and distant former South African president Nelson Mandela being visited at home by African National Congress (ANC) leaders.
The ruling ANC was forced to defend itself from accusations it was exploiting the 94-year-old anti-apartheid icon, who is recuperating after being hospitalized for a recurrent lung infection.
The images aired by state broadcaster SABC on Monday — the first public footage of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate in almost nine months — showed an unsmiling Mandela appearing dazed, but seated upright on a couch, his legs covered in a blanket.
He was surrounded by ANC party leaders, including South African President Jacob Zuma, who said Mandela was doing well and was “up and about.”
South Africans took to social networks to accuse politicians of parading their national hero for their own gain.
“It must take a politician to do stuff like that, because no normal human being would do anything like that to an old man,” political commentator Palesa Morudu said.
Mandela’s head was propped up by a pillow, he appeared to speak at one point and closed his eyes tight when someone in the room took a photograph using a flash.
Mandela’s eyesight is said to be highly sensitive to flashlight due to damage caused by the long time he spent working on a quarry during his imprisonment on Robben Island.
During his active political life photographers were given strict instructions not to use flashlights when photographing him.
“Very sad seeing the footage of Madiba. And who was the idiot who took a pic of him with a flash? Disgraceful. Leave him alone,” popular radio DJ John Robbie said, using Mandela’s clan name.
ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu defended the visit, saying it was meant to share the revered leader with the world, following a series of hospitalizations since December.
The ANC’s visit came as the party and its opponents step up their campaigns for next year’s presidential election.
The ANC, in power since 1994, has struggled to convince the public it is still the party of Mandela, amid widespread corruption, poverty and poor service delivery.