South African President Jacob Zuma painted a rosy picture on Monday after a visit to Nelson Mandela’s home in Johannesburg where he remarked that the aging anti-apartheid leader was “looking very good” and “in good shape.” However, a video later released of the encounter between Mandela and Zuma and his entourage of African National Congress officials says otherwise.
Mandela’s frail condition, seen on video as he grimaced through camera flashes, was a far cry from Zuma’s cheerful “up and about” description following what appeared to be less of a bedside visit than a photo opportunity for Zuma and his ruling party.
The ongoing public spat over the usage of the South African icon’s image — the latest battle in which was joined after the Democratic Alliance opposition party used a photo of Mandela with party founder Helen Suzman in election campaign materials — is the most recent notable example of the ANC’s tendency to jealously guard their claim to Mandela’s legacy. But they look like they’ve overdone it, here: the contrast between Monday’s very-public encounter with the government’s usually strictly controlled updates on Mandela’s health (accompanied by appeals to respect the former leader’s privacy) has only fueled the outcry that has erupted on social media in the wake of Zuma’s visit, the first flareup of backdraft for the ANC from the awkwardly staged encounter. The furore may die down, but that won’t lessen the opportunity the gaffe provides opposition leaders (like Mamphela Ramphele, who has access to potent political associations of her own) to question the party’s worthiness to carry the mantle of Mandela’s legacy heading into 2014’s general elections.