Mail & Guardian

Rethink Mandela book recall

South Africa and the world are all the poorer for not having access to this important text. And I feel all the richer for it


the sale of Mandela’s Last Years may have read only this section and decided these were not family secrets they were willing to divulge to the South African public. Had they bothered to read the rest of the book, they would have read a wonderful homage to the statesman by the man who was on his medical team in Mandela’s last years.

A troubling insight is how former minister of defence Lindiwe Sisulu seems to have had little confidence in this medical team, despite its dedication to the famous patient. Ramlakan recounts how she brought a team of medical doctors from Cuba. Aware that Sisulu was their political boss, the medical team generously stepped aside to allow the Cubans to examine Mandela. The Cubans, who could speak little English, managed to communicat­e to the team through one of the South African National Defence Force doctors who had studied in Cuba. After a few weeks, the Cubans reported to Sisulu that the team had done a good job. It seemed it was only at that stage that Sisulu became confident that the team knew what it was doing.

The only people who really come off badly in this book are La Grange, Sisulu, a daughter who brought Bill Clinton to Qunu without following protocol, and an eTV journalist who seemed to have had inside informatio­n on Mandela’s health when he was in hospital and would ask the doctors uncomforta­ble questions during media conference­s.

Mama Graça is lauded for her grace and her willingnes­s to work with the other two families regarding her husband’s health. She could very well have decided that, as the spouse and next-of-kin, only her opinion mattered.

She is also shown to care deeply for the medical team and, on Mandela’s 95th birthday party in hospital, “the ‘after party’ for the medical panel ended and the night staff took over. After our evening meeting, our team was invited to dinner in the ‘party room’ by Mrs Machel’’ (page 156).

Did Ramlakan break any doctorpati­ent confidenti­ality? I am no doctor and not privy to how much one can share, but I did not see evidence of this. I researched some of the medical informatio­n mentioned in the book. Much of this was already in the public sphere.

It is ironic that some in the media, who had insisted on knowing every small detail about Mandela in his last years, now claim that Ramlakan had been disrespect­ful in writing this book and letting the nation and the world that loved him know how he spent his final days.

After reading Mandela’s Last Years I know two things.

I know that I would consider myself very lucky if any of my loved ones had people as devoted as Ramlakan and the medical team he set up, led by Dr Steve Komati. I know too that if I were a Mandela family member, I would not have banned a book that pays such wonderful homage to the Mandela family and the way they negotiated the difficult times during his last days.

South Africa and the world are all the poorer for not being able to read this important text. And I feel all the richer for having it. Thank you, Niq Mhlongo.

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