Nelson R. Mandela is “very angry” over President Pieter W. Botha’s claim that he is cooperating with the Pretoria government to win release from prison, the black nationalist leader’s wife said Saturday.
Winnie Mandela, after visiting her husband for the first time in two months, said that Mandela had told her he wanted to answer personally Botha’s claim that he is cooperating.
“He just appeared very angry and said that that is a matter he wishes to handle himself. He will answer Botha himself,” she told reporters at Cape Town’s private Constantiaberg clinic, where Mandela is recovering from tuberculosis.
Botha heightened speculation that the 70-year-old African National Congress leader could be freed when he said in August that he hoped Mandela would facilitate his own release.
“If we get the cooperation we have so far got from Mr. Mandela, I believe we will have positive results,” he said.
Botha said earlier this month that Mandela was still being cooperative but refused to say what form that cooperation took.
A government source in Pretoria, speaking on condition of anonymity, refused to confirm or deny reports the government is planning to announce Mandela’s release next month but said Pretoria clearly no longer wants him in prison.
“If at all possible we would not like him to go back to jail,” the source said. One benefit of Mandela’s release, he said, would be to “get many people off our backs. We can do without that sort of negative publicity.”
Mandela, jailed for life in 1964 for plotting to overthrow white rule, is the best known opponent of Pretoria’s apartheid policies of racial segregation. Being seen to cooperate with Pretoria could damage his standing among millions of blacks.
Winnie Mandela, who spent 70 minutes with her husband, did not say how or when her husband would answer Botha.
Statement From Prison
His only previous statement from prison was a message sent with government approval through his daughter, Zinzi, in which he rejected an offer of freedom if he would renounce violence.
Winnie Mandela, accompanied by Zinzi, two grandchildren and her husband’s younger sister, Leaby Piliso, said they did not discuss his release and that Mandela did not know how much longer he would be in the clinic.
“We know his release is a matter handled by the government. We know all the rumors that keep cropping up are just sheer rumors,” she said.
Botha told President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire recently that he is flexible on Mandela’s release.
Mandela was rushed from Cape Town’s Pollsmoor Prison to a hospital Aug. 12 with a collapsed lung. He was transferred to the plush Constantiaberg clinic Aug. 31.
Mandela said her husband looked much better than when she last saw him on Aug. 16.
“The lung is functioning normally and they have stopped the physiotherapy. The doctors think there are very good chances of the lung returning to its elasticity and functioning properly.”
But she said Mandela’s illness is far from cured and that he is still undergoing intensive treatment.