Former president Nelson Mandela. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Former president Nelson Mandela. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Despite repeated assurances from the Presidency that former president Nelson Mandela was responding well to treatment for a lung infection and recovering from gallstone surgery, there is mounting concern in media circles over the way the government is managing news of his spell in hospital.

At issue is the persistent refusal to reveal where the international icon is in hospital and suggestions that the reason for this was irresponsible conduct by the media. This is happening even though a draft protocol for media conduct has been developed and was sent to the government some months ago.

This code of conduct, which lies unsigned on the desk of Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, provides for "journalists being restricted to designated zones in the vicinity of the hospital" and that "no media would attempt to gain access to the medical facility without permission".

Any breach of the code of conduct "would result in that media house being expelled and denied access in future".

It also includes " a commitment from the media to respect at all times Mr Mandela’s dignity and privacy; (and) acknowledgement by the media of security arrangements and restricted access being imposed at key locations ".

On Monday, Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj said Mr Mandela’s health was improving.

"I would urge you that unless we provide an update or new information … we should proceed in the knowledge that Madiba’s health is improving," he said.

On Saturday, Mr Maharaj said the government would engage with the media on Mr Mandela’s health, but would not disclose where he was being treated.

South African National Editors Forum chairman Mondli Makhanya said: "The government’s failure to work with the media on this is shortsighted.

"We put rules on the table that took detailed account of their input, and said we’d work with them in a very responsible manner. Now there are no rules or restrictions that would punish unethical behaviour by a journalist or a particular newsroom. Government is creating the very environment it says it doesn’t want."