This is no doubt a touchy subject and I will thread with caution and ensure the right amount of reverence where due. As of the time of writing this piece, Nelson Mandela or Madiba as he is reverently known in South Africa had entered his seventh week in the Pretoria Hospital where he was admitted on June 8, 2013 to treat a recurring lung infection.
Since Madiba re-entered the hospital, there has been an understandable international concern for his welfare with people from every part of the globe listening for the latest news on his condition. President Jacob Zuma has had to use the word ‘stable but critical’ at countless news conferences as irrespective of the issue at stake, since June 8, he has had to answer questions on the current wellbeing of Madiba.
Make no mistake; Madiba has earned his international attention. He may be South African but he has since transcended his country to become a citizen of the world. He has been severally referred to as the conscience of the world, the sole living embodiment of goodwill and love for one’s neighbor and the perfect example of how to live your entire life for others.
Madiba’s hospitalization is international news and from Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur, Abu Dhabi to Washington, Abuja to Helsinki, London to Sarajevo, everyone is interested in the story of Nelson Mandela.
That been said, there is a specter to the Madiba world attention that is beginning to rankle even his most ardent admirers – the stakeout of the Pretoria Hospital where he is battling for his life by the international media or as it has been termed, the Madiba-Watch.
I understand that there are equally huge international media presences in Qunu – the village of his birth and several other locations with thematic association to the life and times of Nelson Mandela. The hard question then becomes: all those who are waiting, are they waiting for Mandela to recover or are they waiting to be the first to break the news of his death?
I didn’t give this issue much thought until penultimate week when we held interviews for those who had applied to fill an existing vacancy at the office. To a question on what constitutes the hottest news in Africa at the moment, the interviewee mentioned the situation in Egypt. My colleague sought to know if the hospitalization of Madiba did not constitute news enough for her and she paused before making a statement that gave everybody on the interview panel cause to re-evaluate the situation. She expressed her displeasure with the vulture-like manner the press was hovering over the location of Madiba and displaying emotions, she questioned why he would not be left to either recover or die in peace?
After the interview, I thought long and hard about the situation and concluded that we the media are not giving Madiba the peace and quiet he requested of us when he retired from public life in 2004.
I understand that media representatives are paying R3500 for vantage points outside of the hospital where they can mount their equipments and get the best view. If you think this is nothing extraordinary, then I must remind you that the same scenario played out when Madiba was in hospital in 2011.
I have seen an article by a journalist defending why they have the right to be sitting there on the pavement of the hospital waiting. Clearly, he had to dig deep to find answers because it obviously did not feel right sitting there waiting. I am a journalist too and I should defend my colleagues in the profession but on this subject, I just cannot find a ground on which to stand and defend what is happening outside of the hospital in Pretoria, South Africa.
If we all care for Madiba as we are wont to show, then surely we should give him some freedom now at this very difficult time. Let us show him some respect and dignity and let him recover in peace. Mandela requested this upon retirement – ‘We trust that people will understand our considerations and will grant us the opportunity for a much quieter life”, Have we respected that wish by our actions in Pretoria?
Mandela’s daughter, Makaziwe said in a recent article that the ”dignity and privacy” of her father, also a father to the nation, is sometimes under threat.
“This is really utter madness,” she said. “This thing that everybody has got to be the first one to hear when Nelson Mandela goes, it’s not right. All of you will have your opportunity. You will get the news from the presidency at the right time.”
A contributor to the debate closed his article by saying ‘All those sitting on the pavement should ask themselves why they are really sitting there? Surely the public will get the information on a need to know basis. Nothing is clearly happening at the hospital except for a wife visiting her husband and children visiting their father and grandfather’.
On that note, I rest my case and leave you to form your own opinion.