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Foundation speaks out on Mandela ‘turf war’

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The Nelson Mandela Foundation broke its silence over its handling of former president Nelson Mandela's hospitalisation on Monday by accusing Sunday Independent editor Makhudu Sefara of a “scurrilous” attack on its spokesman.

The foundation said it took exception to its spokesman Sello Hatang being accused of misleading the nation and being called a liar.

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Former president Nelson Mandela leaves the the Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg. Mandela was discharged from the hospital on Friday after suffering an acute respiratory infection.

It also said that after its initial statement, the SA National Defence Force was supposed to have taken over with the bulletins.

This followed media reports that there was a “turf war” over who was going to handle the information flow on Mandela's treatment for what was eventually revealed as an acute respiratory infection, from which he should recover.

As journalists scratched for information on the 92-year-old, Twitter and Facebook users and radio listeners pleaded for more information, with rumours that he was dead inevitably gathering momentum. It was only at a 12.30pm press conference on Friday that information was provided.

The New Age editor Henry Jeffreys wrote on Monday of Friday's press conference: “On that day, at the time of the midday news conference, very few people in the world knew what the exact situation was regarding the revered former leader's health.”

On Monday afternoon, the foundation issued its statement, explaining that soon after Mandela arrived at the Milpark Hospital on Wednesday, his daughter Zindzi called CEO Achmat Dangor and urged them to issue a statement because she was being inundated with media queries.

Tests on her father had just begun and so it was not possible to provide further information.

“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,” the statement read.

“But let us examine the use of that word ‘routine’ that Mr Sefara uses as the basis for his scurrilous attack on Mr Hatang.”

The foundation continued: “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.”

They said even the Surgeon General Vejaynand Ramlakan used it at the press briefing on January 28 and family spokesman Nkosi Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela “said as much”.

So, the foundation “was therefore not the only one to use this seemingly contentious word.”

The foundation said it was “hardly likely” that it was a “spin-doctoring conspiracy”.

They just wanted to take pressure off the family and 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.”

They continued: “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.”

The foundation also did not have a chance to respond because it was an op-ed item.

The foundation questioned where Sefara got the information that Mandela's lung had collapsed and that the surgeon-general had ordered that Mandela 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.”

The foundation also wanted to know who in ANC and government had contradicted Hatang behind closed doors, as Sefara had written.

“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.”

The statement ended with Dangor expressing his “fullest confidence” in Hatang - “a person of great integrity who grapples each day with very complex issues”.

Comment from Sefara was not immediately available. - Sapa

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