'Tell us what's going on' - editors

By Time of article published Jan 28, 2011

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South Africans deserve to be kept up-to-date on the state of health of their icon Nelson Mandela, newspaper editorials argued on Friday.

“South Africans deserve a government taking them in its confidence,” wrote Beeld editor Tim du Plessis.

The Star agreed: “For someone of his stature, the distinction between private and public should disappear, given how millions around the world feel about him.”

And The New Age wrote: “This frenzy of attention should be understood as a demonstration of the value people attach to the man.”

Their remarks came after the admission of the 92-year-old Mandela to the Milpark hospital in Johannesburg on Wednesday was followed by a news blackout.

The lack of information led to a frenzy of rumours and media attention.

Du Plessis said the current rumours of Madiba's ill health had a “different character” to previous rumours.

“Several things are different this time. Like the family members, ministers and high-profile ANC members visiting him at hospitals. Are they saying goodbye? That has never before happened. Do they have inside information that this could be the last time to see him?”

The impact of social media in reporting on Mandela could not be ignored.

Du Plessis wrote: “Mandela will be the first international iconic figure to die in the era of Facebook and Twitter.

“No wonder then that Facebook this time provided a strong indication that something significant was busy happening.”

“Mandela's granddaughter Zoleka Mandela wrote on her Facebook page this week: 'I really hate to see you this way...'

“There is more in this Facebook post than in ten official media statements,” said Du Plessis.

Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes tried to encapsulate why Mandela is so special.

“What South Africans feel for Madiba is not simply affection or respect. Even love may not be a strong enough word. His presence is part of the structure of our national being. We worry that we may not be quite ourselves without him.”

He, too, argued that social media was a reality with which the media now had to contend.

“The rumour of Madiba's death that swept across the social networking site Twitter a fortnight ago was an unpleasant reminder of what can happen when our need to know and our technical capacity to spread unreliable reports at electron speed come together.”x - Sapa

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