afrol News, 6 January - South Africa's Nelson Mandela mourns the death of his eldest and last surviving son. The former South African President today broke a widespread taboo, publicly saying that his son Makgatho had died of AIDS. The 54-year-old had been critically ill for several weeks.
Mr Mandela, aged 86, thus has outlived both his two sons. His younger son, Thembekile, died in a car crash during his father's imprisonment in the apartheid era. South Africa's ex-President nevertheless has three surviving daughters from two marriages, two of them from his second wife, Winnie Mandela.
The death of Makgatho Mandela at Johannesburg's Linksfield Park Clinic was announced this morning, but at first, no reason for his death was given. Makgatho was admitted to the hospital late last year and there had been speculations about AIDS ever since his wife died of pneumonia last year. Pneumonia is often caused by AIDS, which generally lowers the body's immune defence.
Only this afternoon, Mr Mandela confirmed that the cause of death of his son had indeed been AIDS. There have been very few prominent Southern Africans admitting that AIDS is affecting their families, as the pandemic still is connected with a wide range of societal and moral taboos.
Mr Mandela however made declarations of his son's death related to AIDS, having in mind the very harmful effects of these taboos in South Africa's society. The former President hoped that his declaration could help South Africans being more open about the disease and stop hiding away their sick.
- Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, Mr Mandela, surrounded by family members, told the press in Johannesburg. That, said the South African ex-President, was because being open about AIDS is "the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer."
With more openness, people could finally "stop regarding [AIDS] as something extraordinary," Mr Mandela told journalists. Most of the estimated 200,000 annual AIDS deaths in South Africa are explained as "long illness", pneumonia, TB and other less sensitive diseases.
Mr Mandela breaks the trend of not calling the death cause by its name. The only top politician in South Africa to have come forward with such information before is Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of Zululand's Inkatha party and former Minister of Home Affairs. Mr Buthelezi recently announced that two of his sons had died of AIDS.
The former South African President and Nobel laureate has plaid an important role in campaigning for greater openness of AIDS issues for five years. Mr Mandela is also playing a key role in many national and international fundraising campaigns for the fight against AIDS.
Throughout December, Mr Mandela had cancelled traditional and current engagements, including his annual Nelson Mandela children's Christmas party in Qunu. The ex-President had announced that he wanted to be at his son's bedside. This had not been granted him at the death of his first son, as apartheid authorities did not even let the freedom fighter leave prison to participate in Thembekile's funeral.
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