'Operation Mandela' is about a doctor in the eye of a diplomatic storm

Willem Laubscher's new book is the story of how a simple medical procedure turned into an international diplomatic crisis

25 September 2019 - 12:02

The late eighties was a highly politicised environment. Willem Laubscher was healing some of the world's best-known political prisoners, among them Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki.

When Nelson Mandela was scheduled for a similar operation, all hell broke loose.

The National Party was quietly plotting to smuggle Mandela out of the country, possibly hoping that he would escape, while the ANC was scoring points by casting doubt on the medical services that white doctors like Laubscher were willing to provide to the political prisoners.

A relatively simple medical operation turned into an international diplomatic crisis.

Meanwhile, in most ironic of twists, the security police was taking desperate measures to ensure Mandela's safety – the country could simply not afford an assassination attempt.

Laubscher was the medical practitioner in the eye of this storm; Nelson Mandela was the calm strategist who had held out against pressure from both the jittery NP government and the increasingly boisterous ANC, with Winnie Mandela already larger than life, stoking the media and exploiting every available loophole to embarrass the government.

This is the story of a few weeks of diplomatic chaos, and a security operation that completely overshadowed the medical procedure Mandela was scheduled for.

Operation Mandela was completed with the assistance of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.