Cape Town - A mistake on a DStv channel caused momentary panic on Tuesday night, by suggesting that former president Nelson Mandela had died.

A mini obituary, titled Remembering Madiba 1918 – 2013, aired at least twice on Universal Channel 117. It featured facts about Mandela’s life.

Mandela has been in hospital since before the Easter Weekend and is receiving treatment for pneumonia.

Troy Martens, the spokeswoman for the ANC Women’s League, on Wednesday morning expressed her disgust at the insert. She was still unsure whether it had been a mistake or a legitimate insert with an unfortunate title and timing.

The obituary featured still images of Madiba and other relevant photos.

“From an educational perspective it looked quite informative, but certainly had the potential to cause undue alarm in light of the current circumstances. It was highly irresponsible and disrespectful to the Mandela family,” she said.

Both the Presidency and the Nelson Mandela Foundation contacted Multichoice CEO Nico Meyer on Tuesday night to complain.

Spokesman for the Presidency Mac Maharaj said the mistake was “unfortunate” and “insensitive to the Mandela family”. However, he commended Multichoice for its quick action in removing the ad and explaining the glitch.

“We accept that mistakes happen and I do not foresee this has caused any irreparable damage,” he said.

The TV service and channel have since issued statements. Universal Networks apologised.

The broadcaster said it held obituaries ready for every major statesman in the world and offered “a sincere and heartfelt apology for the airing of such an announcement… due to a technical error by our team”.

“We unreservedly apologise to the Mandela family and to Universal Channel viewers and to DStv subscribers for the alarm and offence caused by this error. Our thoughts and best wishes are with Madiba and his family for a speedy and full recovery,” the statement concluded.

In response to queries, Multichoice spokeswoman Marietjie Groenewald referred to Universal’s statement, adding that the mistake was the fault of the broadcaster and not of DStv. Multichoice did not comment further.

Maharaj said he had not received an update on Madiba’s condition on Wednesday morning. The country had to assume that no news was good news, he said, suggesting doctors would immediately issue a statement if it worsened.

“Mandela has been responding well to treatment and we have to assume things are continuing as normal. Our thoughts remain with him and his family,” he said.

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Cape Argus