‘Mandela needs his friends’

2013-06-16 14:00

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As Madiba’s health deteriorates, ex-bodyguard is told to stay home

As Nelson Mandela’s oldest grandchild was pleading with South Africans to continue praying for his ailing grandfather, Madiba’s bodyguard of 10 years was sent home.

Speaking at the funeral of Mandela’s relative Florence Nondlela Mandela (96) in Qunu yesterday, Mandla Mandela told mourners that his famous grandfather was making good progress in hospital but still needed their prayers.

“As the Mandela family, we are very grateful for your prayers (for) my grandfather. I went to visit him in hospital in Pretoria with other members of the family this week. He is doing well.

“Madiba will only gather the strength to get better and rise from that hospital bed through your prayers,” Mandla said.

He said Madiba “does not belong to us as the Mandelas. He belongs to all South Africans, Africa and the rest of the world.”

But after a week of hospitalisation, the headlines about Madiba were dominated yesterday by the news that Warrant Officer Shaun van Heerden, the former president’s bodyguard for a decade, was asked to stay at home.

Van Heerden told the Saturday Star that Mandela’s doctors have “put him (Mandela) right back into prison again”. He accused the surgeon-general, Dr Vejay Ramlakan, of falsely accusing him of leaking details about Madiba’s hospitalisation to the media.

Last Saturday night, before reporting for his night duty, Van Heerden was told to stay at home and be on standby.

A few hours later, Mandela was rushed to the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria with a recurring lung infection.

The last time Van Heerden saw Mandela was on the Thursday before his hospitalisation. It was the second time Ramlakan had accused him of leaking information to the press, Van Heerden said yesterday.

“I know my job. I have never tipped off the media about Mr Mandela,” he said.

According to the bodyguard, Mandela may just as well be in prison again because of the way doctors from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) are regulating his visits. “It is now the time for his friends who walked a long road with him to be by his side. Even if they just sit with him, look in his eyes or drink a cup of tea.

“They don’t have to talk to him. There must be people with him,” an upset Van Heerden said. “He is alone.”

Ramlakan declined to comment. Sources close to the former president’s medical team said the priorities of the team are the “health and safety” of the former president and that will remain their focus.

The source said that the team had to ensure that Mandela was able to rest and recuperate.

SANDF spokesperson Xolani Mabanga said access to Mandela was the work of the police, not the SANDF.

“In other words, it is not Lieutenant-General Ramlakan’s decision,” Mabanga said.

Van Heerden accused the military doctors of abusing photo opportunities with Mandela.?“Those of us who have been working with him for years have never posed with world leaders and celebrities. We are disciplined and professional. We didn’t even take pictures with Charlize Theron,” he said.

The relationship between Van Heerden and Ramlakan has been sour for a while.

He recalls an incident during the 2010 Fifa World Cup when Mandela made his last public appearance on field before the final match.

Mandela was transported with a golf cart and Van Heerden drove the cart.?Ramlakan allegedly didn’t want Mandela to go on to the field with bodyguards, but rather with medical staff.

In 2002, Van Heerden guarded President Jacob Zuma when he was deputy president.

Ramlakan was imprisoned on Robben Island between 1987 and 1991, where he was a member of the political education committee. He, like Mandela, is a former Umkhonto weSizwe commander and joined the armed wing of the ANC in 1977.

Yesterday, Mandla praised the doctors and nurses who have been on Madiba’s side “throughout this difficult time”. – Additional reporting by Thandeka Gqubule

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