South Africa is terribly upset at some rather blatant preparation for the death of Nelson Mandela.
Now 93 years old, and not seen in public for eighteen months, the death of ‘Mandiba’ is one that not only South Africa is — quietly — preparing for, but the world’s media as well.
It was the discovery that two news agencies had set up cameras opposite Mandela’s house which upset everyone. They’ve now gone and AP and Reuters said that they’d only been placed there in preparation for the actual day, not to do any spying now. But South African police said that they would be prosecuting the news agencies following an outcry.
Paul Colford, an AP spokesman, said:
They are not surveillance cameras. Along with other media, the AP has preparedness around Mr Mandela’s eventual passing. The AP cameras were not switched on and would only be used in the event of a major news story involving the former president.
We had similar preparedness outside the Vatican ahead of Pope John Paul II’s passing.
The discovery has exposed how the South African government is also — quietly — preparing for the death of their iconic leader. They are known to have plans but have only shared them with a few broadcasters. Government spokespersons have refused to comment.
South Africans accused the media of being “vultures.” Donald Mothoa, a lifelong ANC member, told The Guardian that he finds the preparations for Mandiba’s passing offensive:
Culturally, it’s wrong. We don’t do that. We wait for a person to die, then we start the preparations. You are pushing him to the grave.
Heidi Holland, an author and columnist, said:
Nelson Mandela is a father figure so the fact he is going to die is very painful. It’s like watching one’s grandfather fade away. He represents integrity and a lot of things we are not entirely sure we will have in abundance without him.
So to talk about his death appears unseemly. There is a form of denial about it.
Not everyone agreed. Wrote Lukhona Mnguni:
The death of Mandela is going to be one of the biggest things to have ever happened to the world in the last 50 years. So, the ‘preparedness’ for it is very important. Sometimes I think we not practical and realistic, too much emotion in analysing everything. Fact is that Mandela too will die, but there are those who want to believe otherwise.
The Guardian quotes journalist Phillip de Wet saying vast sums are being invested, local fixers are being bid over and helicopters block booked to cut out the opposition.
“It is considered a huge competitive event. They believe careers will be made and broken in those few days. Media organisations are playing their cards very close to their chests and there is a lot of secrecy,” he said.
All media have prepared obituaries for famous people. Some employ journalists just to do that particular job. In 2003, CNN accidentally published a number of them, including one for Mandela.
The premature obituary of arms manufacturer Alfred Nobel condemning him as a “merchant of death” may have caused him to create the Nobel Prize.
In 2008, one for Steve Jobs by Bloomberg was mistakenly published.
Wrote John C Abell at Wired:
As morbid as it may sound obituaries are, of course, written way in advance whenever possible, especially when the subject is getting on in years or health issues emerge. The subjects are often happily interviewed for their own media epitaphs (maybe not the media-averse Jobs, perhaps).
For ordinary people it is also possible — alongside asking for certain music to be played at your funeral, or in Mrs Thatcher’s case asking that ordinary admirers be stopped from paying respects as you lie in state — to order your obituary in advance, for only $60.
Picture South African Embassy