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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mandela, Papers Exchange Attacks

JOHANNESBURG -- Is Nelson Mandela a senile, bullying dictator using the propaganda tactics of South Africa's former apartheid rulers to scare off dissent? Or is he a weary old man at his wits' end over reckless and malicious reporting?

Publishers whom Mandela has accused of hiring top black journalists to do the dirty work of a white, capitalist, gutter press think the president is showing signs of intolerance or paranoia, at the very least.

But Mandela says traitorous hired pens are under orders to go gunning for his ruling African National Congress, systematically rubbishing its efforts to govern.

"The media is still controlled by conservative elements of a tiny minority of the population. They have co-opted certain senior black journalists to do their dirty work and destroy this...government ... They think they can turn whites against transformation," he told a dinner audience on Wednesday.

Johannesburg's The Star, one of the country's biggest papers, clearly considers itself among those under attack.

"President Mandela's personal smear campaign against unnamed senior black journalists is as unsubstantiated, unbalanced and ridiculous as that waged by the [white government] during the worst days of total onslaught [against the black liberation movement]," it said in an editorial blast Friday.

And it saw a dark purpose behind the outburst.

"Mandela probably believes ... that a smear repeated often enough will become fact in the minds of the gullible," the paper suggested, evoking Goebbel's "big lie" technique.

After a long period of saintly untouchability, which Mandela himself found unhealthy, it is now acceptable to attack South Africa's first black president.

The Star was the target of bitter ANC attacks this week for banner-headlining a story which said Mandela had disowned his heir apparent, deputy president Thabo Mbeki.

An angry ANC statement called the story "superficial sensationalism signifying nothing". And in a stinging rebuke which The Star printed in Friday's edition, senior ANC member Carl Niehaus accused the paper of "gutter journalism."

He zeroed in on a recent suggestion by senior Star political writer Kaizer Nyatsumba that President Mandela's "autocratic behaviour ... [was] possibly due to growing senility."

Niehaus also raised its recent report of a "threat to resign" by Mandela, and finally the "Mbeki bombshell." "These three stories have seriously impacted on international perceptions about the political stability of South Africa," Niehaus said. "They were based on misinformed opinion, distorted facts and in some instances outright lies."