Thousands turn out to bury Mandela's son

By Salon Staff

Published January 16, 2005 12:02AM (EST)

The grandson of Nelson Mandela heeded the former president's call for more openness about the AIDS epidemic on Saturday, revealing that his mother had died from the virus that also killed his father.

Mandla Mandela revealed the cause of his mother's death in a speech to mourners at the funeral for his father, Makgatho Mandela, who had been the last surviving son of the anti-apartheid icon.

Some 4,000 people attended the funeral at the former president's Eastern Cape home, including President Thabo Mbeki, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, business leaders, Zulu royalty and local villagers.

Tutu said a prayer at the funeral while a solemn, gaunt Mandela, supported by his third wife Graca Machel, sat quietly and gazed at the brown coffin covered in white and yellow flowers.

Makgatho Mandela's family had refused to disclose the nature of his illness when he went into intensive care at a Johannesburg hospital late last year, underscoring the secrecy in South Africa still shrouding a disease that kills 600 people here every day.

More than 5 million of South Africa's 45 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, more than in any other country. But until this year, the government refused to provide life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs through the public health system, citing concerns about their safety and cost.

It has now promised to provide free treatment to all who need it within five years.

Hours after Makgatho died last week, Nelson Mandela summoned the media to his home to say his son was HIV positive and had died of AIDS-related complications, and said the country should be more open in discussing the epidemic.

On Saturday, Mandla Mandela revealed that his mother, Zondi, also died of AIDS-related complications a year earlier.

''In spite of this, we are not used to death," he was quoted as saying by the South African Press Association.

Mandela's aggressive campaigning is in stark contrast to Mbeki's government, which has been criticized for its sluggish response to the crisis and for courting dissident theorists who question that HIV causes AIDS.

Salon Staff

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