Digital grapevine rumours on Madiba died a quiet death

By Carien Du Plessis 14 September 2011

Yet another rumour had it that the elderly Nelson Mandela had died, but thanks to Twitter the gossip died quickly. It apparently followed news that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela had been admitted to hospital. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.

A few hours after the ANC sent out a statement on Tuesday wishing Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela a speedy recovery after a “successful .. minor foot operation”, which kept her in hospital overnight, the rumours about her ex-husband started.

Denials seemed to emerge on Twitter even before the actual allegations that former President Nelson Mandela has died.

Eyewitness News reporter Mandy Wiener tweeted that the rumour seemed to have started on Blackberry Messenger and asked her more than 16,000 followers to please not perpetuate it.

Other journalists activated their carefully cultivated network of Madiba family members close to Madiba, who also denied his death.

Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj knew nothing about it either.

One tweeter calling himself @plumbtifex even wryly commented that the advent of social media networks like Twitter and Blackberry had seen Mandela die many times.

Mandela’s health had been a matter of national concern, more so since a prolonged stay in hospital at the beginning of the year, which saw the world’s media camp outside the Milpark Hospital, and later in front of his Houghton home.

In July, a few days before his birthday and what has now become Mandela Day, he moved back to his Qunu home, near the village where he was born, apparently for good.

Rumours about Mandela’s death surface every few months, with far-right-wing groups fearing that his death would spark a slaughter of whites by black people in what has been dubbed “the night of the long knives”.

Mandela’s long-time assistant Zelda la Grange eventually tweeted on Tuesday: “You want a rumour to stop? Stop speaking about it. Thank you!!”

So rife were the rumours that #mandela trended in South Africa. DM