The first pictures of Nelson Mandela since his discharge from the hospital after being treated for pneumonia have just been broadcast on South African television. NBC's Rohit Kachroo reports.
The African National Congress has gone on the defensive after being criticized for allowing a visit to ailing leader Nelson Mandela to be broadcast on national television.
In photos and video shown on state broadcaster SABC, the recently hospitalized Mandela appears frail and wears a somewhat vacant expression as he is surrounded by President Jacob Zuma and other ANC party officials.
While some South Africans expressed gratitude on social media for having been able to see footage of Mandela, others attacked the move as being disrespectful and politically exploitative. Zuma is expected to run for re-election next year.
“Mandela survived 27 years in prison only to become a prisoner of the ANC marketing machine,” one Twitter user wrote in a message that had been “retweeted” more than 800 times within hours.
“The ANC are more interested in the brand than the man, or they'd just let him live out his last days in peace,” wrote another Twitter user.
View images of civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, who went from anti-apartheid activist to prisoner to South Africa's first black president.
It was typical of the criticism being lobbed at the ANC, with many people saying Mandela looked too ill to be shown and should be left alone.
Some people also questioned the ANC’s statements that Mandela was “in good health and good spirits,” which the party stood by on Tuesday.
“South Africans are called upon to appreciate that [Mandela] is 94 years old; he will be frail and not as active and energetic as we all fondly remember him,” the ANC said in a statement. “There is no reason to be alarmed by the visuals of an elderly person who clearly is receiving the necessary care and attention.”
In the video, Mandela is sitting in a chair, his legs propped on an ottoman and covered by a blanket. He is expressionless and nearly motionless as politicians and people described as his medical team laugh and smile and pose for photographs.
Shortly afterward, Zuma appeared outside Mandela’s Johannesburg home and said he had conversed with Mandela, whom he described as being “very up and about.” He added: “We’re very happy. We think that he’s fine.”
After the broadcast began to draw the ire of some South Africans, the ANC released a statement saying that showing Mandela was “in the public interest.”
”We maintain that President Mandela is a global icon,” the statement said. “As the ANC we regard him as a leader of the people and we would want to keep the world informed of his condition.”
The party also speculated that negative reaction reflected “the fear of South Africans to accept that President Mandela is mortal and aged.”
Mandela was discharged from a hospital on April 6 after having been treated since March 27 for pneumonia and other problems.
The Nobel laureate and former president, who led the nation’s battle against the white-minority apartheid government, has battled health problems, especially with his lungs, for years.