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An open letter to a daughter of Madiba

Dear Makaziwe,

I cannot even begin to imagine what you are going through. I don't know what it's like not to have a private corner in which to reflect, soothe your pain and come to terms with the inevitability of your father's passing.

But I do know what it's like to lose a parent. My father was not Mandela, but I too have had to live with what my nine-year-old mind perceived as a public spectacle as my father lay dead on a street corner. The thought of curious spectators taking turns to peep at him still unsettles me.

So I write this letter straight from my heart, hoping it will find yours.

Your father is Nelson Mandela. The Nelson Mandela. The man whom the same media you are calling vultures lauded and celebrated.

The media followed him everywhere; through them we watched him reach the apex of greatness. He and everyone else around him never complained when he was photographed and filmed as he traversed the globe and touched the world in the way that only he could.

It was the same media that kept his memory alive when his oppressors were determined to expunge him from our hearts and minds.

I remember how, in 1985, my father told me stories about your great father. There was a picture of him in the paper. Except it wasn't a picture - it was just a zigzag outline of a man: no face, no identity and yet below the image was the name Nelson Mandela.

My eight-year-old self was perplexed. I could not understand how any man could look like that. Nonetheless, the fact that he was in the news anyway and that his name came up in defiance of the apartheid regime was a victory.

Who can forget the image of your father walking out of Victor Verster Prison in all his splendour, with his fist up in the air and his winsome smile flashing across his face? He brought with him the promise of a better tomorrow. He was loved and adored then and is still loved and adored.

His illness, therefore, is not being followed with glee and delight. I have seen teary-eyed journalists reporting that he was critical and on life support.

The media have not suddenly become vultures around him. They followed him everywhere, all the time, and this is just a continuation of a journey that he understood and accepted as his fate.

The media love him, too, and our job dictates that we wait outside the hospital and outside his homes.

Some are calling for privacy. But using the word "privacy" in the same sentence as the word "Mandela" is almost comical.

This does not in any way mean that he must be humiliated. The media have a responsibility to report, but to do so in a responsible way. They must report even if it irritates the family. That is the cost of being a Mandela.

I hope it will comfort you to know that most, if not all, the media coverage has been delivered with reverence for the man and compassion for you as his family.

You cite the privacy afforded to Margaret Thatcher. With all due respect to her achievements, Thatcher's stature was nowhere near that of Mandela's. She was neither a liberator nor a unifier. To put it bluntly, she wasn't loved as much.

And you are wrong. This is not racism. It is not only foreign journalists camping outside, but local ones as well.

Remember, when South Africa's media were barred from reporting on your father and the ANC, it was the foreign media that continued to keep the story alive. Were they being vultures then? The media loves Mandela and have often been blind to his faults and weaknesses.

Your father's incapacity and eventual death leave a lump in the throat. Believe me.

This column appeared in The Sunday Times.

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