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Former South African President Mandela's Son Dies of AIDS

Makgatho Mandela, the eldest and only-surviving son of former South African President Nelson Mandela has died of AIDS. Mr. Mandela made the announcement at a press conference.

Surrounded by members of his family, Nelson Mandela revealed the cause of his son's death.

"And that's why we have called you today, to announce that my son has died of AIDS," he said.

Makgatho Mandela, 54, had been critically ill in a Johannesburg hospital since November. A corporate attorney, he was a private, quiet person who avoided the spotlight of fame which enveloped his father.

Nelson Mandela, who in the past two years has become highly active in the fight against HIV-AIDS, said that he did not know his son was HIV-positive, when he launched his charity and other AIDS activities. Mr. Mandela urged South Africans to step up their fight against the stigma of HIV-AIDS by being open about the disease.

"Some of you are aware that for some time, for more than three years I have been saying, let us give publicity to HIV-AIDS, and not hide it because the only way of making it appear to be a normal illness, just like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and to say, somebody has died because of HIV," he said. "And people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary, as an illness that is reserved for people who are going to go to hell, not to heaven."

Despite his strong message, Mr. Mandela appeared tired and frail. Since the son he described as gentle and a natural peacemaker was admitted to hospital over a month ago, Mr. Mandela has hardly left his side.

Mr. Mandela lost his second son Thembekile in 1969 while his was imprisoned on Robben Island. Writing in his autobiography Mr. Mandela said he did not have the words to express his sorrow and that his passing had left a hole in his heart that would never be filled. The apartheid government had refused to allow him to attend the funeral.

Mr. Mandela has often said that his only regret about his commitment to the struggle to end apartheid was the price paid by his family. He never speaks of the price he has paid; decades of separation from those to whom he is so deeply devoted; and guilt at not being there when they needed him most.

Makgatho Mandela, whose second wife Zondi died of pneumonia last year, leaves behind four sons.