By Nick Thompson and Kim Norgaard
(CNN) — A video of a frail and unamused looking Nelson Mandela surrounded by South African President Jacob Zuma and other officials has prompted cries of political exploitation by the government.
In the footage released by the South African Broadcasting Corp., the 94-year-old Mandela sits in a chair at his Johannesburg home, barely moving and never smiling as leaders from the governing African National Congress arrange themselves for a photo opportunity.
At one point Mandela’s grandson takes a picture with flash, causing him to close his eyes and purse his lips. The former president is sensitive to flash photography from his years laboring in quarries during his imprisonment under the country’s apartheid government.
Zuma says Mandela is in “good shape,” but the footage seems to show him looking anything but — and the stunt provoked outrage from many in South Africa who accused the ANC and SABC of parading the country’s anti-apartheid hero on television for their own benefit.
“Very sad seeing the footage of Madiba. And who was the idiot who took a pic of him with a flash? Disgraceful. Leave him alone”, tweeted Johannesburg radio DJ John Robbie, using the clan name by which Mandela is widely referred to in South Africa. Another Twitter user, Brent Lindeque, wrote: “After everything Madiba has done for us this is how they treat him. Like an animal at the zoo. Shame on the ANC!”
“[A]fter months of attacking media for ‘invading’ Mandela’s privacy, ANC today released an invasive video of a clearly ailing and grim Mandela,” tweeted journalist Geoffrey York. One Johannesburg radio station wrote: “The way #Madiba was paraded on SABC TV this evening was horrible! Grotesque ‘journalism’. All involved should hang their heads in shame!”
Mandela endured 27 years in prison before becoming the country’s first black president in 1994. He has become increasingly frail over the years and has been hospitalized three times in the past five months, most recently for a lung infection in March.
The ANC may have been critical of the media in the past for not respecting Mandela’s privacy since his withdrawal from public life, but the party rejected any criticism of Monday’s house call.
“The African National Congress has noted the determined efforts by some sections of our society to degrade the visit of the National Office Bearers to Comrade Nelson Mandela,” party spokesman Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.
Mthembu said the visit “was in line with the accepted norms of Ubuntu that we value our elderly,” and the party “stands by its statements that President Mandela is in good health and in good spirits.”
“South Africans are called upon to appreciate that Tata is 94 years old; he will thus be frail and not as active and energetic as we all fondly remember him. There is no reason to be alarmed by the visuals of an elderly person who clearly is receiving the necessary care and attention.”
Geoffrey York countered on Twitter: “ANC misses point. Criticism was because of its political exploitation of Mandela; not because of ‘fear’ of the images.” Another user, Siya_Ntshoko, wrote: “[T]he #ANC has no compunction about using a 94 year old frail man to canvass for votes – anything for nostalgia.”
The video released Monday was the first of the former leader since his birthday last July. Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has a history of lung problems dating back to when he was a political prisoner on Robben Island during apartheid. He contracted tuberculosis during his imprisonment.
He underwent treatment for a lung infection and had surgery to remove gallstones over the Christmas holiday in 2012, one of his longest hospital stays since his release from prison in 1990.
Dana Ford and CNN Wires contributed to this report.