Achmat Dangor, chairman of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, takes issue with an op-ed written by Sunday Independent editor, Makhudu Sefara.
“Makhudu Sefara, in an op-ed (Sunday Independent 30 January 2010) makes what is in our view an unwarranted personal attack on Sello Hatang, the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s media spokesperson. This attack is framed as an “analysis” of the statement issued by the Foundation on 26 January, and focuses on the word “routine.” It is necessary to briefly recall the sequence of events that led to the Foundation’s statement.
“Soon after Madiba arrived at the hospital, his daughter Zindzi Mandela called the Foundation CEO, Achmat Dangor and urged the Foundation to issue a statement. She and other members of the family were being inundated with media inquiries. She had just seen her father, and as his medical team had just started their tests, it would be impossible to provide any detailed status on his health. The words “routine tests” were then agreed to. It was always understood that a more detailed medical bulletin would in due course be issued by the SANDF medical team which is responsible for Madiba’s health care.
“But let us examine the use of that word “routine” that Mr Sefara uses as the basis for his scurrilous attack on Mr Hatang.
“It was first used that day by Madiba himself when he met former President Thabo Mbeki at the Waterkloof airbase. Madiba informed Mr Mbeki that he was going to hospital for a “routine check-up.” This can be confirmed by Mr Mbeki’s spokesperson.
“Surgeon General Vejay Ramlakan used it at the press briefing on 28 January. To quote from his statement: “Given the medical history of our former President, his health over the last few years and his age, these tests are necessary in order to provide optimal health care to him…These tests have been carried out at various facilities over the years and are a normal part of his medical regimen. Such tests are considered routine for a patient of his profile.”
“Family spokesperson Nkosi Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela also said as much at this press briefing, stating that his grandfather had undergone many such examinations over the years.
“The Nelson Mandela Foundation was therefore not the only one to use this seemingly contentious word. But was this part of some, perhaps even unconscious spin-doctoring conspiracy? Hardly likely. From the Foundation’s perspective it was simply to confirm Mr Mandela’s hospitalisation, in order to relieve pressure on his family and to allay fears of his imminent death. Perhaps the Foundation was naive in assuming that it would be self-evident, especially to experienced journalists, that more detailed medical bulletins would be issued, in due course, by his medical team.
“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. Furthermore, his article perpetuates gossip and speculation. Where do the reports emanate from that the Surgeon-General ordered that Madiba be especially flown to a Johannesburg hospital? Has he asked the Surgeon-General to confirm this? Where does he get the information that Madiba had a collapsed lung? It is certainly not contained in the medical bulletin released by the Surgeon-General. Who in the ANC and government “contradicted” Mr Hatang behind closed doors? Yet another unnamed and unnameable source?
“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. Finally, I want to express, as CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, my fullest confidence in Sello Hatang, a person of great integrity who grapples each day with very complex issues.”