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Updated: November 12, 2010 23:14 IST

Nelson Mandela will sign no more autographs

David Smith
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SPOTLIGHT: Nelson Mandela with a copy of the British edition of his newly released book
AFP/NELSON MANDELA FOUNDATION SPOTLIGHT: Nelson Mandela with a copy of the British edition of his newly released book "Conversations with Myself" in this handout photograph released by the Nelson Mandela Foundation on October 11, 2010.

Every month, the former ANC leader receives 4,000 messages and requests.

Aides to Nelson Mandela on November 11 demanded a halt to the thousands of requests for autographs, endorsements and interviews in a plea interpreted by some as a veiled warning to the governing African National Congress (ANC) and others accused of hijacking the name.

The ANC was criticised last year for using the frail 92-year-old anti-apartheid leader at its final election campaign rally. Mandela's most recent public appearance, on a bitterly cold night at July's World Cup final in Johannesburg, was the result of “extreme pressure” from Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa), according to his grandson.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation said he received at least 4,000 messages a month. These include requests for his signature or a message of support for various causes, public appearance or interview. There are still appeals for him to intervene in struggles around the world.

Foundation's statement

But the foundation noted that as far back as 1999, Mandela said: “I don't want to reach 100 years whilst I am still trying to bring about a solution in some complicated international issue.” He formally retired from public life in 2004 and since then has he made a diminishing number of appearances. Last year it was announced he would retire almost entirely from public life.

The foundation said it “would like to ask people everywhere to help make Madiba's [Mandela's clan name] retirement a time of peace and tranquillity, and to once more note the following: — “He no longer grants interviews, nor does he respond to formal questions from the media, researchers or members of the public.

— “Given the huge number of projects and causes he is asked to endorse, and the impossibility of selecting a few among the many worthy requests, he no longer provides messages of support, written or audio visual.

— “Because of the sheer volume of requests for his autographs, he no longer signs books, memorabilia, photographs, etc. We therefore appeal to the public not to send items for him to sign as the foundation cannot guarantee the safe return of this material.” The foundation urged people to focus on Mandela Day by devoting 67 minutes of their time, in honour of the 67 years he spent fighting for social justice and human rights, on his birthday on July 18.

Sello Hatang, a foundation spokesman, denied the statement had any connection with past controversies. “We cannot cope,” he said. “There are more than 4,000 a month and, even if you put many bodies behind that, it's too much.”

Reactions

Mandela's lawyer and close friend George Bizos told the Guardian: “Members of his family and friends are persistently telephoned. For example: ‘I have painted a portrait of Nelson Mandela and would like to show it to him and ... can I bring a camera?' “I get innumerable calls of that nature. I have to spend a few minutes telling them he does not do that for anybody. It's impossible for him to comply with the requests he gets. This statement is nothing more than a request to turn the tap off.” Bizos visits Mandela regularly and said he read four or five newspapers a day and conversed about old times. “I saw him a week ago and he was unchanged. If there had been a deterioration in his health I'm sure I would have been informed. Don't read anything into this statement other than an attempt to stop the deluge.” Mandela's status has led to claims of tensions between his family and the ANC, for whom he remains a vote winner, and others keen for a piece of him.

Fred Khumalo, an author and columnist, said the ANC appeared to have compelled Mandela to attend a political rally before last year's elections. “He wasn't looking very well but they needed his presence, his magic. They dragged him to the stadium against his will, I suppose.” Fifa, football's world governing body, faced similar accusations. Khumalo said: “At the World Cup final it was freezing and the old man had to parade, again, I would think against his will. Maybe the local organising committee prevailed upon his wife to persuade him.” The foundation's statement “is a sign they want to discourage” such incidents, he added.

With archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu having also recently retired, South Africa could face a difficult search for a new generation of moral leaders. Khumalo said: “There is already a vacuum at the top. People need a manifestation of hope they can cling on to even when Nelson Mandela is gone.

“When you see the likes of Julius Malema [president of the ANC youth league] getting centre stage, you despair and you want to look back to the era of hope and optimism.”— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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