Madiba spied on

15 December 2011 - 02:16 By CHANDRÉ PRINCE
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Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela
Image: Tyrone Arthur/ Business Day

International news agencies have - using hidden cameras - been spying on former president Nelson Mandela's Eastern Cape home for years.

This week, a special police task descended on Mandela's home in Qunu village to investigate the security breach.

At least three CCTV cameras installed at the house of Chieftainess Nokwanele Balizulu have afforded US news agency Associated Press and Britain's Reuters birds-eye views of Mandela's home for as long as six years.

Balizulu - who lives directly opposite Mandela's home - last night confirmed she had granted the news agencies permission to install the cameras, but would not admit to being paid for having done so.

"I agreed to having those cameras there, but I'm not going to say anything else," Balizulu said.

The Times has established that the last remaining surveillance cameras belonging to Reuters would be removed this morning on orders from the police task team.

The team is headed by Brigadier Gary McClaren from East London. He is assisted by Mthatha's VIP unit commander, a Captain Sipika, who is responsible for security around Mandela's home. The team also consists of special security unit officers from Pretoria and local chiefs.

It is also investigating the presence of other cameras around the village, one of which, situated on a hill, belongs to the SABC.

Spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said he was unaware of it.

The task team gathered in Mthatha on Monday to attend to what a local chief had said was a "breach of security and a safety risk".

"This was a security risk for uTata [Mandela] and we could not allow it to continue. What they [AP and Reuters] are doing is not right. They should leave him in peace," said an insider.

When contacted for comment last night, AP spokesman Paul Colford said: "They are not surveillance cameras. Along with other media, the AP has preparedness around Mr Mandela's eventual passing. The AP cameras were not switched on and would only be used in the event of a major news story involving the former president."

Colford added: ''We had similar preparedness outside the Vatican ahead of Pope John Paul II's passing.''

Marius Bosch, bureau chief for Reuters Southern Africa, referred requests for comment to the group's public relations manager in London, who could not be reached last night.

At Monday's meeting, McClaren was adamant that the cameras should be removed as they were not only violating Mandela's privacy, but were also breaking the law.

AP is believed to have had two cameras installed on Balizulu's property about six years ago. The agency has also set up a television studio on one of the properties in the village.

Reuters is said to have one camera installed about two months ago, on Balizulu's property.

One of the local chiefs said AP regularly sent technicians to the area to test if its cameras were fully functional. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said that even though locals, including Mandela's grandson Chief Mandla Mandela, knew about their existence, no action was ever taken.

Mandla Mandela was due to attend the meeting with the special task team, but neither he nor Balizulu was there. Mandla was not available for comment last night.

Mandela's health has been the subject of intense interest from both local and international news organisations.

Several have been jockeying for space around Qunu, all desperate to be the first to capture news of any developments around his health.

Two years ago, Mandla was accused of selling the rights to his grandfather's funeral to the SABC for R3-million. Both he and the SABC have since denied this.

Mandela, however, is said to be doing well after having moved from Johannesburg to Qunu before his 93rd birthday in July.

His last public appearance was during the closing ceremony of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

In January, international media flocked to the country after he was hospitalised for lung-related complications. - Additional reporting by Amukelani Chauke

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