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Tue Sep 02 06:16:30 SAST 2014

Mandela health updates difficult, says expert

Sapa | 10 June, 2013 15:18
Nelson Mandela (L), helped by his wife Graca Machel, is pictured 18 July 2007 during the launching ceremony of the group known as The Elders, in Johannesburg.
Image by: ALEXANDER JOE / AFP PHOTO

The media must understand the difficulties the presidency faces in keeping the public informed about former president Nelson Mandela's health, media strategist Chris Vick said on Monday.

"When the presidency issues a statement, every word is analysed for some form of hidden meaning, or compared to the substance of previous statements when Madiba was in hospital," Vick, a former spokesman for politician Tokyo Sexwale, said.

"Yet, when no statement is issued for some time, the lack of comment is itself analysed for some form of hidden meaning, or compared to previous statements."

It became a vicious circle where government was damned if it did, and damned if it did not.

The presidency announced on Saturday morning that Mandela was in a "serious but stable" condition after being admitted to a Pretoria hospital in the early hours of that morning.

On Monday it issued a statement saying Mandela's condition was "unchanged".

This was the first update in more than 48 hours since the initial announcement on Saturday.

Newspapers speculated on the ailing icon's health on Monday morning amid the silence from the presidency.

Vick said that although the presidency was dealing with a high-profile world leader it also had to respect the privacy and feelings of Mandela's family as well as the practicalities of the medical team treating him.

"One way the presidency could take the pressure off itself, while keeping the public informed, would be to commit to issuing statements at a particular time of the day... and if there is no update at the time, to just say so.

"That may go some way to easing the clamour for updates, and managing the speculation that develops when no statement is issued for some time," he said.

Media have been camping outside the hospital where Mandela is believed to be admitted and outside his Houghton home in Johannesburg since the news broke.

Mandela has been in and out of hospital in the past few years. At the end of March and in April this year he spent nine days in hospital receiving treatment for recurring lung problems.

Earlier in March, he was admitted to a Pretoria hospital for a scheduled check-up and was discharged the following day.

In December last year, Mandela underwent an operation to remove gallstones and treat the recurring lung infection. He was discharged after an 18-day stay and placed under home-based high-care at his Houghton home.

In January, the presidency said Mandela had made a full recovery from the surgery and continued to improve. In February last year he was admitted to hospital for a stomach ailment.

In January 2011, a virtual void of information marked Mandela's admission to Johannesburg specialist care Milpark Hospital. With very little information to go on at that time, speculation was rife and reports of his death started running on social networks.

Finally, on January 28, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Surgeon General Vejaynand Ramlakan addressed a media briefing on his health.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, which customarily managed publicity for Mandela, only broke its silence on Monday, January 31, 2011.

This was after then Sunday Independent editor Makhudu Sefara wrote an item called "The making of an unnecessary crisis".

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