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Twitter used in campaign to spread information on Mandela health

Twitter is playing its part in disseminating information of the condition of former South African president Nelson Mandela, as the government steps up its efforts to keep the public informed after criticism of its handling of his last hospitalisation.

The anti-apartheid hero’s spell in hospital has entered a fourth day, with Mandela diagnosed with a lung infection.

Criticised for the lack of readily available information the last time Mandela was admitted to hospital in January 2011, the South African government has increased its information efforts this time around to avoid a “media blackout”. Twitter has been central to this, with regular statements on his condition released on @NelsonMandela and @PresidencyZA.

The government was on Monday commended by a Rhodes University academic for the better response to demands for updates on the former president’s condition.

“Last time there was more of a gap, uncertainty,” professor of journalism Herman Wasserman told News24. “This time information seems to be coming out more quickly.”

The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory at the Nelson Mandela Foundation has also been tweeting details of relevant anniversaries in Mandela’s life, including that on Monday it was 19 years since Mandela and FW de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace prize and today it is 61 years since he was banned for six months under the Riotous Assemblies Act.

Wasserman described how the constant updates on the former president’s condition in recent days were in stark contrast to the response in 2011, when the dearth of information led to speculation of Twitter that he had died.

A statement on his health was only issued after he had returned home, due to disagreements over who should handle communications.

Wasserman said that releasing relevant information was crucial to preventing “vulture journalism”, saying that the prompt release of information would dissuade reporters from camping outside the hospital.

“Withholding information might play into the hands of the paparazzi,” he said.

According to SA National Editors’ Forum chairperson Mondli Makanya, the presidency has been much more forthcoming with information.

“Somewhere a medium is being found,” he said. “It is a tricky one. It is Nelson Mandela, everybody wants to know… the world is genuinely concerned.”

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