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On the morning of June 26, 2013, we received a message from one of our South African correspondents, Laura Oneale, that Nelson Mandela had passed away the previous evening. The news had come to her in the form of a text message from an acquaintance who was well-placed in the South African media. It should be understood that this organization was not authorized to break the news. Clearly, the South African government and the Mandela family had already decided that the news would not be made public. Undoubtedly, this decision had been made even before his death; at least, that’s what we were thinking.
Our assumption, at the time, was two-fold. Firstly, we doubted that such news would not long escape the attention of the international media, even if the South African media was being muzzled. As is the nature of the news media industry, we saw that we had been handed a major scoop and that our window of opportunity to be the first to break this news was limited. Cynical? Perhaps, but we did not doubt the integrity of the source, given that individual’s position. We are in the news business. What other publication – given the gravity of the story and the knowledge of Mandela’s health condition – would not have immediately prepared to publish? We began both to work on a couple of articles and to seek out verification. We found no other corroborating evidence. We wrote our stories.
In the interests of being completely honest, we cannot say that we did not second-guess ourselves. Did we have direct, first-hand proof that Nelson Mandela was dead? No, we didn’t. One must look at how news stories are broken, though: A media publication receives information from a trusted source; every good faith attempt is made to verify the information. In the absence of verification, the editor or editorial team must decide to publish or not to publish. What we did have was the best source we could have, other than first-hand, eye-witness testimony. Moreover, Mandela was seriously ill; according to reports, the icon and former African leader was on his deathbed; hooked up to medical devices that enabled him to breathe.
Now, we were walking on eggshells; our reputation was at stake. What were we thinking? Other news outlets actually published stories announcing Mandela’s death; they quickly retracted without actually justifying why they had done so. To us, that in itself indicated that they had been told to retract, rather than doing so because they had discovered that Mandela was still alive. The Las Vegas Guardian Express, however, was a relatively new and completely independent publication with no government ties and no corporate owners or shareholders. We could not be pressured into retracting other than through legal action. In addition, we were a tiny speck on the world news radar.
Naturally, it was in our own interests to quickly verify Mandela’s condition. Is that an admission that we published news of his death without being sure? No, it is not; we were sure, and we could clearly see that an official announcement could be kept under wraps for any number of reasons; a visit by US President Barack Obama was already scheduled, and there were obvious security implications. Additionally, the South African government is absolutely capable of using such news for political purposes. Our only misgiving was that we had failed to uncover any corroborating source. The strength of our conviction is proven by the fact that, even as the days went by and no word of his death came from official or family sources, we maintained our position. It seemed logical enough that there was no reason to retract without absolute proof that Nelson Mandela still lived.
As the few articles, we published drew attention – along with numerous comments – it became self-evident that both the South African government and the Mandela family were aware of our reports. Had we been wrong – and had the family been able to prove that Mandela was still alive – it is beyond doubt that the Las Vegas Guardian Express would have received some form of legal threat. Not only did such action never transpire, but our publication was subjected to cyber-attack: Denial of Service attacks, originating in South Africa, disabled our site on more than one occasion. We took this as proof that we were reporting something that the South African government did not want us to report.
It should be remembered that our publication was relatively small and generated only modest revenue through advertising. Nevertheless – and at considerable expense – we dispatched a senior editor to South Africa. During his time there, Michael Smith uncovered intriguing details of the situation regarding Nelson Mandela, the family, the African National Congress, and South African President Jacob Zuma. Our investigations opened a door to the corruption and dishonesty of the aforementioned parties. During a Mandela family legal battle, documents emerged which stated that doctors had advised the family to turn off Mandela’s life support as he was brain-dead. At a later point, Zuma made a statement denying this. Still, we noted carefully that, while other news organizations were reporting that the doctors themselves had retracted their claims that Mandela was brain-dead, no such retraction had been made; Zuma himself claimed that the doctors had retracted this assertion.
Now that it has been officially announced that Nelson Mandela has passed away, our position on the matter has not changed in any way. Inevitably, his passing had to be revealed. Many of our South African readers have believed us from the start; those that have criticized us have presented not one shred of evidence that we were wrong. The idea that we are proven wrong because the official announcement comes only now is absurd.
This article has not detailed every piece of evidence that fell into place during our investigation into why Nelson Mandela’s death was covered up. One of the most compelling discoveries was brought back from South Africa by Michael Smith: He returned with an audiotape of a recorded telephone conversation Between a South African Defense Force officer and a private security contractor. The audio can be found in the first of the links listed at the foot of this article. For the reader who wishes to get the full story of our reporting on this story, each of those articles listed provides, collectively, the complete picture. During the call, the officer details the circumstances of Mandela’s death – which, according to him, occurred even earlier than we reported – and the possible implications of it, as well as the Mandela family’s motives for not releasing the news.
Even now, the South African government, it seems, is attempting to prevent the Las Vegas Guardian Express from revealing the truth to the people of South Africa. Our Facebook page received a telling comment today. The comment reads:
I am from South Africa, and for some reason, I cannot view your website or any articles regarding Nelson Mandela. Is it possible that your site is blocked by our country?
Could you kindly send the articles you recently wrote?
Nelson Mandela is now officially dead – but he was already dead. Nothing has transpired between our initial June 26 reports and the present time to prove otherwise.
Nevertheless, we would be remiss if we did not convey to the South African people that we have the utmost respect for Madiba and the great legacy he has left the world. However, as a publication read by millions across the globe, we have an obligation and responsibility to report the truth and what we were thinking.
Editorial by Graham J Noble
D. Chandler, Contributor
Nelson Mandela Dies, Greed Lives On
Nelson Mandela Life Support Shut Down as Respected Humanitarian Dies Age 94?
Nelson Mandela, Death, Dishonesty and Denial
Mandela: Reporting His Death and the Search for the Truth
Mandela Legacy Betrayed by Family and Country
Nelson Mandela Family Finally Gives Up Charade and Admits Mandela Dead
Editor’s note: This editorial was first published on Guardian Liberty Voice.