Fragile Mandela filmed at home

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President Jacob Zuma (left) sits next to Nelson Mandela during a visit to the former president's home in Johannesburg, where the SABC filmed exclusive footage during an interview. The SABC video captured a frail Mandela, who barely smiled or spoke.

Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma said he found Nelson Mandela “in good shape and in good spirits” on Monday, but a video of his encounter with the ailing anti-apartheid icon belies those cheery words, showing Madiba with a vacant look on his face.

It's been more than three weeks since Mandela was released after a 10-day stay in the hospital, the third time in five months that he was admitted to hospital for a recurring lung infection.

“We saw him, he's looking very good, he's in good shape,” Zuma told the South African Broadcasting Corporation on the doorstep of Mandela's Johannesburg home.

“We had some conversation with him, shook hands, he smiled, as you can see him, that he's really up and about and stabilised. We're really very happy, we think that he's fine.”

But the SABC video shows Mandela in an armchair, his head propped up by a pillow, his legs on a footrest and covered by a blanket, looking grey-skinned and unsmiling with his cheeks showing what appear to be marks from a recently removed oxygen mask.

Zuma jokes and laughs with two officials of the African National Congress, some Mandela family members and the former president's medical team while Mandela stares straight ahead, unresponsive. Zuma tries to hold Mandela's hand but, given his lack of response, ends up covering it with his own.

“Smile, smile,” Mandela is urged as one of his grandsons grabs a cellphone to take a picture. Mandela attempts a weak smile but, as the flash goes off, he closes his eyes and purses his lips. Mandela is known to dislike camera flashes, as his eyes are sensitive after years of working in the glare of a limestone quarry when he was imprisoned on Robben Island.

Mandela does not appear to speak during the televised portion of the visit, except for an “Oh”, that could have been a gasp for breath and one word to his medical doctor.

Monday's video likely will cause more concern for the many South Africans who revere Mandela as the founder of a free South Africa and who were buoyed by the ageing icon's release from hospital and family statements that he is doing as well as can be expected, for a 94-year-old. Mandela's 95th birthday is in July.

Zuma is expected to run for re-election next year and Mandela's name is the biggest drawing card of his ruling ANC.

Mandela's forgiving spirit and belief in racial reconciliation helped to hold South Africa together when it came to the brink of civil war before elections in 1994. He became the first democratically elected president of South Africa that year. - Sapa-AP


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