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Broadcaster blunders, says Nelson Mandela is dead

Stones painted by well-wishers are pictured outside Nelson Mandela's current residence in the Houghton area of Johnnesburg on April 3. (Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

Rumours of his death are not only “greatly exaggerated,” to steal a phrase from Mark Twain, but just dead wrong.

A South African television station jumped the gun Tuesday, informing its viewers that Nelson Mandela had died.

Viewers who tuned into Universal Channel 117 watched in stunned silence as the station aired an advertisement for a documentary obituary entitled, "Remembering Madiba 1918-2013," replete with facts on the great South African's life, according to the Johannesburg Star.

Mandela is best known in his home country by his clan name, “Madiba,” which admirers use to convey affection and respect.

Not surprisingly the gaffe on South Africa’s DSTV sparked outrage from Mandela’s African National Congress.

“This was uncalled for and totally insensitive on the part of DSTV, as (former) president Mandela is alive and receiving treatment for a recurring lung infection,” congress spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.

Mandela, 94, was admitted to hospital last week with a recurring lung infection, and reports now indicate he’s battling back and responding well to treatment.

Mac Maharaj, who did jail time with Mandela on Robben Island, and who is now spokesperson for South Africa’s current President Jacob Zuma, called the broadcaster’s blunder, “unfortunate” as well as, “insensitive to the Mandela family.”

Thankfully, he added, the mistake had not caused any “irreparable damage.”

For its part the station offered its, “sincere and heartfelt apology for airing such an announcement.”

DSTV said it had occurred as a result of, “a technical error by our team.”

The station added that it has numerous other obituaries for world leaders ready for when they pass on.

Here’s hoping the "team" keeps its hands off the obit button.

Related: Read Bill Schiller on how Nelson Mandela became an inspiration for the world.


Bill Schiller has held bureau postings for the Toronto Star in Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Beijing. He is a NNA and Amnesty International Award winner, and a Harvard Nieman Fellow from the class of '06. Follow him on Twitter @wschiller


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