Techno-tussle at Mandela hospital

Pretoria - A dozen police officers apprehended a man who flew a radio-controlled mini helicopter over the Pretoria hospital, where former president Nelson Mandela was being treated on Friday.

The multi-copter had a rotating camera and was in the sky for a few minutes. A multi-copter looks like a spider. It has several arms attached to a central control unit. A rotor is mounted on the end of each arm.

As soon as the gadget landed in the hands of one of the controllers, police rushed to the area. Hundreds of people, including journalists, mobbed the officers as they escorted the man and his helicopter into the hospital.

Minutes later, police officers returned and took the gadget's remote control from another man.

The helicopter apparently belonged to FC Hamman Films, a private film company. It was not clear what police did with the man or the helicopter.

According to Reuters Hamman, a South African freelance film-maker, was escorted away by police along with the helicopter camera he was flying with his 21-year-old son Timothy outside the hospital.

"As far as I know, I didn't do anything wrong," Hamman told Reuters by phone from the office in the hospital compound where he was taken by police. He said he was waiting to be interviewed by senior officers and for them to view the footage filmed.

"We were careful not to fly over the hospital," Hamman said.

He said he had intended to offer to media organisations the aerial shots of intense activity around the hospital, where crowds of jostling journalists have mingled with well-wishers paying tribute to South Africa's former black president.

Hamman said he had already used the home-built flying camera in other film projects and had also assisted police with surveillance work in operations against suspected drug-dealers in the Johannesburg suburb of Eldorado.

Police had not so far pressed any charges, he said.

"You can't fly one of those things without a permit," one police officer said at the hospital after Hamman was escorted away. Pretoria police declined to comment further.

Despite the cold weather, many people milled around outside Mandela's hospital on Friday evening.

Some were still bringing presents, mainly flowers, and leaving them at a section of the hospital's wall, which had been turned into a shrine to Mandela.

Mandela's family said the former president was still critically ill, but stable when they visited him on Friday.

Visitors

This was according to Free State premier and ANC chairperson in the province Ace Magashule, who spoke to them at the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria on Friday.

"They said Madiba is better than any other day. He is fine. They saw him this morning," Magashule told people gathered outside the hospital.

"That is the message that is motivating and inspiring them," he said.

He did not go into Mandela's ward, but visited the hospital to be among the South Africans there.

International media started asking him about the survival of the ANC, the governing party Mandela once led, should he die.

Magashule mentioned the names of previous ANC presidents, such as Albert Luthuli and Oliver Tambo, and said the party was "still standing".

He said there would be prayer meetings throughout the Free State in honour of Mandela, and for Mandela to get well.

ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said few ANC leaders had been into Mandela's ward to see him.

President Jacob Zuma, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, and the party's treasurer general Zweli Mkhize were the only officials to have visited him.

"All of us have decided not to go to his ward for the reason that we want him to get well," said Mthembu.

Earlier, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula arrived, to join family members Makaziwe and Ndileka Mandela.

Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela told reporters in Soweto on Friday afternoon: "From what he was a few days ago, there is great improvement, but clinically he is still unwell."

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