JOHANNESBURG, Jun 15 – Nelson Mandela is a very lonely man, one of his bodyguards told AFP on Saturday, accusing the ailing anti-apartheid icon’s medical team of controlling visits like prison guards.
As South Africa and the rest of the world held its breath a week after the revered 94-year-old was hospitalised, Shaun van Heerden spoke out against the team run by army Surgeon-General Vejay Ramlakan.
“At times it felt like he was back in prison,” Van Heerden said.
The bodyguard said he was “given leave” by his employers over accusations he leaked the place where Mandela was being treated to the media.
Before he was checked in last week to receive treatment for a recurring lung infection, in what appeared to be the most serious in a string of recent health scares, Mandela was receiving medical care from his Johannesburg home.
Van Heerden charged the medical staff surrounding Mandela often curtailed the frail statesman’s freedom by imposing unnecessarily tough restrictions on visits.
“Even before he was admitted few people were allowed to see him. Some of his old friends were denied access,” he alleged.
Van Heerden also accused members of the medical team of being “starstruck” and overstepping their duties when around Madiba, often posing for pictures with him.
“I have witnessed cases where some of them shoved copies of his book, The Long Walk to Freedom, into his hands for him to sign.”
“That is amazing, and I did not like it,” he said.
Van Heerden who worked as Mandela’s bodyguard for nearly 10 years described him as a “gentleman who seriously cares about those around him”.
Security has been beefed up at the specialist private facility in Pretoria where Mandela was checked in on June 8, with police searching vehicles and people going in.
Details about his exact condition have not been released, but officials say he is receiving “intensive care”.
On Thursday President Jacob Zuma said Mandela’s health “continues to improve” but his “condition remains serious”, after visiting in hospital for the first time.