Mandela's doctor speaks for himself: Defence Department

22 July 2017 - 15:04 By Suthentira Govender
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.
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.

The Department of Defence has distanced itself from the controversial book "Mandela’s Last Years"‚ penned by the former surgeon-general of the South African Defence Force.

Former First Lady Graca Machel threatened on Friday to sue Dr Vejay Ramlakan - who headed Nelson Mandela’s military medical team for about seven years - as well as publisher Penguin Random House‚ after the book hit the shelves this week.

In a statement released on Saturday‚ defence spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said the department “noted and completely distances itself" from media reports about the book.

“The department wishes to explicitly state that all views expressed in the book are those of the author and do not in any way or manner represent the department and the South African Military Health Service.

“The SANDF’s policy on patient-doctor confidentiality is in force‚ as such the views and patient doctor engagements expressed in the book have not been sanctioned by the senior cadre of the department and the SANDF respectively‚” Dlamini added.

The book contains never-before-published information on Madiba’s various health conditions‚ including that doctors were worried the former statesman ”might have died” when he stopped breathing on a chilly night in June‚ seven months before his December 2013 death.

Among the claims Ramlakan makes are that it was Winnie Madikizela-Mandela‚ and not Machel‚ who was at Mandela’s bedside when he died.

Internal family politics also negatively affected Mandela’s heath in his final few months‚ Ramlakan claimed. He said that he was privileged that the family gave him their blessing in publishing the book.

Machel said in a statement on Friday: ”I condemn Vejay Ramlakan's book Mandela’s Last Years in the strongest terms. It is an affront to and an assault on the trust and dignity of my late husband‚ President Nelson Mandela. It breaches the doctor–patient relationship of confidentiality and I am taking legal advice on whether to institute legal proceedings against the author and its publisher.”

Machel added that she would be consulting the executors of Mandela’s will “on how best to protect Madiba’s good name and reputation”.

Ramlakan referred TimesLIVE to Penguin Random House for comment on Machel’s legal threat.

“Penguin Random House South Africa (PRHSA) accepted Mandela’s Last Years for publication after the author Vejay Ramlakan advised PRHSA that he had received permission from Mr Mandela’s family to publish the book. Their representative was provided with a proof of the book‚” said spokesman Surita Joubert.

“Mandela’s Last Years sets the record straight about the final years of his life. Written by the head of his medical team‚ the military doctor who witnessed first-hand what the former president was experiencing. It documents the complex medical challenges‚ the interactions between family members and staff‚ the constant scrutiny from the press‚ and the actions and responses of Mandela himself.

“Written with respect and with the support of family members‚ this book completes the story of Nelson Mandela. It reveals a man who showed immense courage‚ not only when he fought for the freedom of millions of people‚ but until the very end of his own life‚” said Joubert

- TimesLIVE