Police investigate news agencies over Mandela surveillance cameras


Nelson Mandela looks at a copy of his new book "Nelson Mandela, by himself" a book of quotations from him book. The book was launched June 27 at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg.


Debbie Yazbek/Nelson Mandela Foundation

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — South African police are investigating two news agences accused of spying on Nelson Mandela with surveillance cameras pointed at his home in Qunu village.

A police task force opened a case after cameras were found posted at a house directly across from Mandela's rural home in the Eastern Cape, where he has spent much of the past year. The cameras have reportedly been removed and confiscated by police.

Police spokesman Vish Naidoo told Agence France-Presse that cases against "at least two media houses" had been opened, but would not name the news organizations. Under the apartheid-era National Key Points Act, the residences of presidents and former presidents are considered sensitive "key points" and may not be filmed, Naidoo told AFP.

South Africa's Times newspaper earlier that both Reuters and the Associated Press had cameras stationed in Qunu.

The Times reported:

At least three CCTV cameras installed at the house of Chieftainess Nokwanele Balizulu have afforded US news agency Associated Press and Britain's Reuters birds-eye views of Mandela's home for as long as six years.

According to the Times, Balizulu said she had allowed the AP and Reuters to install the cameras on her property in Qunu, "but would not admit to being paid for having done so."

Special report from GlobalPost: Mandela's village: South Africa's road from Qunu

Police learned about the cameras a week ago, and upon investigation found that Mandela's house was constantly being filmed, Naidoo told the BBC

Major media organizations have for years booked houses in the Qunu area in preparation for reporting on Mandela's death.

Paul Colford, a spokesman for the AP, denied the cameras were being used for surveillance.

"Along with other media, the AP has preparedness around Mr. Mandela's eventual passing. The AP cameras were not switched on and would only be used in the event of a major news story involving the former president," Colford told the Times. ''We had similar preparedness outside the Vatican ahead of Pope John Paul II's passing."

 Reuters spokeswoman Joanne Crosby told AFP: “We did have a camera and it has been removed."

Mandela, 93, retired from public life in 2004 and since his birthday in July has been living mostly in Qunu, where he spent his boyhood. 

He is said to be frail but in good health after a scare earlier this year that saw saw journalists descend on a Johannesburg hospital where Mandela was undergoing treatment for an acute respiratory infection.

Two years ago, Mandela's grandson, Mandla, who is the chief of nearby Mvezo village, was accused of selling the rights to his grandfather's funeral to the South African Broadcasting Corporation for R3 million (about $430,000).

More from GlobalPost: Mandela's release from hospital calms South Africa