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'It's like watching our dad dying'


Melanie Verwoerd

Melanie Verwoerd

Melanie Verwoerd

MELANIE Verwoerd has told of the growing sense of grief and sadness developing over Nelson Mandela's poor health.

The 46-year-old, who is a former South African ambassador, has just returned to Dublin after spending three weeks there.

Ms Verwoerd said it was hard to describe the "enormity and depths of love and affection that is felt for Madiba in South Africa" – this is the clan name that Mr Mandela is affectionately know by.



"I think for the first time now, there is almost universal acceptance that his death is imminent and unavoidable. And so, there is a growing sense of sadness and grief developing in the country. It's like watching our dad or our grandfather dying," she said.

The partner of the late broadcaster Gerry Ryan said also that she felt there is a growing protectiveness by the ordinary people towards him and his legacy.

Many people around the world were shocked by pictures of Mr Mandela looking frail with current South African president Jacob Zuma in April.

Ms Verwoerd said: "Madiba didn't look well, and he looked particularly frail. It certainly did not go down well abroad, but it also went down extremely badly inside the country."

She said she heard different reasons about him being brought in front of the cameras. "On the more benevolent side, I was told the reason was there a lot of concerns that he was more frail than he was at that stage, and therefore it was a way of just showing he was still okay."

Ms Verwoerd was in South Africa to promote her memoir When We Dance, which details her friendship with Mandela. She was an anti-apartheid activist and one of the youngest MPs representing Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, before being dispatched to Ireland as her country's ambassador.

She explained yesterday how when he stepped down as President in 1999, Mr Mandela withdrew from domestic politics. "With the exception where at one point he spoke out about the AIDS crisis, he absolutely kept to that, which was very wise of him," Ms Verwoerd explained.