Johannesburg – South Africa’s ruling African National Congress said it would never endanger the health of former president Nelson Mandela after drawing criticism for flying him to an election rally in wet conditions to support the party.
At a press conference Monday the ANC’s campaign director Fikile Mbabula insisted: “The ANC would not put the life of Madiba at risk,” referring to Mandela by his clan name.
Mbalula also insisted that the 90-year-old anti-apartheid icon had expressly asked to attend an ANC rally together with controversial leader, Jacob Zuma.
Mandela’s appearance at a rally in his native Eastern Cape province eight days ago came as a surprise after the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which manages his schedule and speaks on his behalf, had previously said he would not be available for electioneering.
Mandela can not walk unaccompanied and had to be helped on stage by Zuma and others. His grandson, Mandla Mandela, spoke briefly on his behalf to convey the Mandela family’s support for the ANC.
A week later the Sunday Times newspaper reported that the ANC had disregarded the usual security procedure for the transport of an ex-president and that the private plane in which he was flown to the Eastern Cape did not take into account his physical needs.
The Times quoted a Mandela Foundation official as saying Mandela had repeatedly insisted on not wanting to get caught up in the campaign.
At a weekend election rally Zuma lashed back, saying Mandela had specifically asked to campaign with him and that “Madiba does not belong to a foundation but to the ANC.”
Mbalula, a former head of the ANC Youth League, of which Mandela was a founder, called the foundation’s comments “damning and dangerous to say the least.”
The two sides agreed to further discuss the matter in private.
Since retiring from public life in 2004, Mandela has avoided getting caught up in politics, choosing instead to concentrate on charities benefiting children and those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
His endorsement was deemed as a coup for corruption-accused Zuma.
While the ANC is forecast to easily win the April 22 elections, its more-than-two-thirds majority is under threat from the Congress of the People, a new party of breakaway ANC members loyal to ousted former president Thabo Mbeki.
Mandela, the nation’s first democratically elected president, stepped down after a single term in 1999. dpa