[QODLink]
Opinion

Nelson Mandela's final battle: dying with dignity

Mandela's complex familiy is attempting to capitalise on the iconic leader's death, writes Danny Schechter

Last Modified: 19 Jul 2013 18:51
Danny Schechter

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits MediaChannel.org. He is the author of The Crime of Our Time.
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
"Mandela is being given the dying celebrity treatment with the focus on personality, not politics, on his iconic status," writes Danny Schechter [Reuters]

Durban, South Africa -  If I was an ailing Nelson Mandela, and conscious of the storms surrounding me, I might not be in such a hurry to open my eyes.

As thousands of South Africans hold prayer sessions outside "his" Pretoria hospital,  and with the world media still on an  escalating "death watch,"  inside there's been a clash among and between family members, government officials trying to control and spin health information, and , even, doctors who have been cited, wrongly, in court battles about his condition.

There has been an official denial of a claim  that he is in a vegetative state, along with false rumours that he is will be taken off life support for his birthday, yesterday on July 18 .

Meanwhile, a sideshow sparked by warring family members robs the occasion of any of the dignity it deserves with one daughter of an earlier marriage, and her daughter, lashing out in an obvious bid for money and even to control media coverage with a demand that CNN, a foreign network, should be given "preferential access" to cover the funeral possible upstaging the South African Broadcasting Corporation. 

Bidding wars

There have been hints of a deal between CNN and members of  the Mandela family which the network has denied, a decision that would not surprise media critics who have been condemning the tabloid direction the once mighty news network has taken.

Dylan Byers, a media critic of Politico, discuss CNN's pandering for ratings and revenues and how it drives coverage. "The truth is," he writes, "CNN's programming decisions aren't a reflection of CNN so much as a reflection of the American people, more of whom care about a domestic court trial than about the historic events taking place overseas."

Nelson Mandela in 'serious but stable condition'

Dylan Byers, a media critic of Politico, discuss CNN's pandering for ratings and revenues and how it drives coverage. "The truth is," he writes, "CNN's programming decisions aren't a reflection of CNN so much as a reflection of the American people, more of whom care about a domestic court trial than about the historic events taking place overseas."

Already, all of this sounds more like show biz than news biz in an industry that long ago watered down the serious content of its news. The South African soap opera surrounding Mandela's long good bye plays in the trivialisation of what should be a more solemn occasion.

Perhaps, that's why this whole unseemly family feud is being denounced by the likes of Archbishop Tutu.

Mandela is being given the dying celebrity treatment with the focus on personality, not politics, on his iconic status, as opposed to his role as freedom fighter sent to prison for organizing armed resistance.

His universally loved smile and heroic story has been lost in the narrative of grim health bulletins and angry accusations by some in the family who never seem to missing an opportunity to insert themselves in what should be a solemn media moment.

The man who survived 27 years of imprisonment and earlier medical emergencies behind bars, might not survive the resentment of some of the people who knew him best.

Family players

Here are some of the players in this daily drama.  

Makaziwe Mandela: the oldest daughter from the first wife who still nursing anger at not being acknowledged enough. Articulate and well educated, she's been given interviews for years and has criticised her dad for being the father of her nation rather than being her father.  She's been a lead actor in the law suit against the administrator of the Mandela trust, lawyer George Bizos.

Court orders Mandela grandson to return bodies

Mandla Mandela : one of Mandela's grandchildren. He claims to be the tribal chief and was caught unburying members of the Mandela clan. He is battling with both a tribal king who has fired him from his chieftaincy, and the daughters who see him as an embarrassment.

At issue right now is the question where Mandela and his relatives should be buried. The Mail & Guardian's Phillip de Wet asks:  

"Who is winning the grave fight? Everyone but Mandla Mandela. Almost all the rest of the family have lined up against him, including (according to court documents) (his Wife Graca) Machel and (ex-wife) Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Mandla had a weak legal case to begin with, but was completely out-played in court. He has also seen his traditional standing weakened with abaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo  publicly denigrating him  and his claim to chieftaincy."

Meanwhile, a government inter-Ministerial Committee is planning the funeral with family members while construction workers upgrade the airport and roads near his rural home anticipating a tourist invasion to a grave that is already being viewed as a shrine, even as Mandela himself has said repeatedly he was no saint or saviour.

Already media watchers are concerned that all of this discord surrounding his status could impact on his image. "it remains to be seen whether the media tone will recover and portray the icon in a positive light," suggests Stephano Radaelli, senior researcher at Media Tenor. "Should the media tone remain at such dire levels, this could potentially have an impact on Mandela's popularity ratings in opinion polling in months to come,"

"Therefore, perhaps the international media needs to follow in the footsteps of Le Journal, a French TV news broadcast, where the former president's past achievements and leadership qualities are taking precedence over his health."

Not likely.

Most of the media coverage focuses on what's new which is often confuses with real news. Already some documentary makers who want to tell parts of the Mandela story that is not well known, are being told by American media companies to stick with famous names and familiar stories. 

"We have never heard of some of the people you show," i.e - leaders who have been close to Mandela and who he credits as being part of the "team" that overthrew apartheid. Because they don't know who they are, they assume the public won't be interested.

This is in line with the all too familiar axiom in the news world - "KISS" - keep it simple and stupid.

What is worth considering is that Mandela's fame grew throughout the years when the South African government blocked his image from being shown or him being quoted in the press. His legend blossomed in the absence of press coverage, even as now it may be diminished by the expected media oversaturation that will follow his death.

I have been covering the South African story for many years and recall, with disgust, the many calls I received from TV program bookers who knew I had made films with Mandela and thought I could get them what is known in the trade as " the big get, " an exclusive interview.

When I pressed the callers on what they wanted to learn, I was told, just having him on was as important as anything he might have to say.

They were like the big white African hunters who saw him as prey, there to buttress their wannabe credibility.

Who knows? For them, bagging such big game could lead to a raise. 

Meanwhile, the TV Networks have to staff  their stakeouts. That's why Nelson Mandela is known among journos as an "FBR," the freelancer's best friend. You can bet that once Mandela is gone, so will be their interest in South Africa.

This article orginally appeared in Global Research.

News Dissector Danny Schechter is a writer and filmmaker who is working in South Africa on a documentary about the forthcoming Mandela bio-pic  Long Walk To Freedom. He blogs at Newsdissector.net and edits Mediachannel.org.  .

1410

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source:
Al Jazeera
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
At least 25 tax collectors have been killed since 2012 in Mogadishu, a city awash in weapons and abject poverty.
Tokyo government claims its homeless population has hit a record low, but analysts - and the homeless - beg to differ.
3D printers can cheaply construct homes and could soon be deployed to help victims of catastrophe rebuild their lives.
Lack of child protection laws means abandoned and orphaned kids rely heavily on the care of strangers.
Featured
< >