Johannesburg: One of Nelson Mandela`s bodyguards has accused the medical team treating him in a Pretoria hospital of putting the 94-year-old anti-apartheid icon in a virtual prison.
"It`s like his medical people have put him right back into prison again," Shaun van Heerden said of the revered statesman`s stay in a Pretoria hospital where he is battling a recurrent lung infection.
Van Heerden made the comments to the weekly Saturday Star, alleging that he had twice in last seven months during Mandela`s hospital stays been asked to stay away from his duty of protecting the former South African President.
He said that he had been protecting the leader for the last ten years. Van Heerden said he had been accused of informing media where Mandela was being treated, which was kept secret by government in its attempt to ensure privacy for the elder statesman privacy.
Journalists were also camping outside the hospital during his present stay at the hospital.Mandela today spent his eighth day at the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria suffering from a recurrent lung infection. This was his fourth hospitalisation since December.
Van Heerden told the weekly that the medical team, led by Surgeon-General Dr Vijay Ramlakan of the South African National Defence Force, had insisted on his removal because he had spoken out against their "constant and uncalled for need to control visitors and hog the limelight".
There had been earlier media reports that only immediate family of Mandela were allowed to visit him, with even the African National Congress which he led for many years being denied access, but this was denied by the ANC.
Van Heerden said the medical team were acting as if they "own Mandela". "For these medical people it`s all about photo opportunities with Madiba and him signing autographs. I was one of the people who reprimanded them," Heerden said.
"Sometimes they would come to his room late at night and put copies of his book (Long Walk to Freedom) under his hands to be signed. I warned them," he alleged.
"Whenever a special guest comes to see Madiba, they want to be in the picture with him," Heerden said, adding that even when Ramlakan had invited him to be part of a picture when Hillary Clinton visited Mandela, he had declined.
The bodyguard was adamant that he was not just speaking out now because of Mandela`s condition or for personal gain.
"I never used Nelson Mandela to sell myself. I had very private moments with Nelson Mandela and some of those I will take to my grave," he said.
Ramlakan could not be reached for comment, and the South African Police Services asked Heerdan to follow the process laid down for the servicemen if he had any grievance.