Former South African president Nelson Mandela smiles during his photo exhibition and book launch entitled, "The Meaning of Mandela" in Johannesburg July 12, 2006. The exhibition, with photos taken by legendary South African photographers Jurgen Schadeberg and Alf Khumalo, depicts Mandela's long battle for freedom including 27 years in apartheid prisons and culminating in the South Africa's joyous first all-race elections in 1994. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko (SOUTH AFRICA)

South African police have laid criminal charges against two media outlets for setting up surveillance cameras outside former president Nelson Mandela's rural residence, a spokesman said Thursday.

“Cases against at least two media houses have been opened,” said national police spokesman Vish Naidoo, who declined to name the organisations.

The news outlets face “criminal charges”, Naidoo told AFP. “They were in contravention of the National Key Points Act.”

“All presidents' residences are declared national key points. No person is allowed to film a part of or whole national key point.”

Police regulations are strict around national key points, areas considered sensitive on national security grounds. These include some government buildings such as the Union Buildings, site of the president's office in Pretoria.

Interviewed before police announced the charges, international news agencies Reuters and AP on Thursday confirmed they had set up cameras outside Mandela's home in the Eastern Cape province in the country's south.

“We did have a camera and it has been removed,” Reuters spokeswoman Joanne Crosby told AFP, declining to comment further.

Associated Press spokesman Paul Colford said in an e-mail to AFP: “The cameras were positioned some time ago, with the knowledge of authorities. The cameras are not turned on. They are not spying on Mr Mandela's home.

“They are part of the preparedness that AP and other large news organisations customarily make in the event of a major news story involving a former world leader.”

Police removed at least two cameras from a house neighbouring Mandela's homestead on Monday.

South Africa's Times newspaper said the CCTV cameras had been installed as long as six years ago.

Anti-apartheid icon Mandela returned to his rural home in June after being discharged from hospital in January for an acute respiratory infection.

The frail 93-year-old's health has sparked intense national and international media attention.

Mandela was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994 and served one term before stepping down in 1999. - Sapa-AFP