Royals won't be meeting Mandela

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A request from Norway’s King Harald and Queen Sonja to visit Nelson Mandela during their state visit to South Africa later this month has been turned down, but no one will say why.

The former president of South Africa turned 91 in July and long has been believed to be in poor health. He has largely withdrawn from public life after years of global travel and innumerable appearances.

Norway’s royal couple will be on a state visit to South Africa from November 24-27 and had put in a request for a meeting with Mandela during their stay.

A spokesman for Norway’s Foreign Ministry told newspaper Aftenposten that the Norwegian Embassy in South Africa has been in contact with the Nelson Mandela Foundation to see whether it would be possible for the royal couple to make a courtesy call on Mandel during their stay.

“It’s not possible,” said Anne Marie Borgvad of the ministry. She couldn’t say why the request was turned down.

The foundation noted on its website at the end of last month that there had been “a great deal of speculation recently” about the state of Mandela’s health.

“The fact is that Mr Mandela is as well as one can expect of someone who is 91 years old and who has lived an active and demanding life, as he has,” wrote GJ Gerwel, chairperson of the foundation. “He obviously needs rest more than he has in the past, and indeed to do the things that he enjoys in his well-deserved retirement.”

Gerwel wrote that Mandela therefore had “recently decided to cut back his engagements even further and spend more time with his family.”

Gerwel noted that Mandela has been open about his health both while president and after his retirement, and announced in 2001 that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“People everywhere can therefore be assured that Mr Mandela and his family will continue this trend and will keep the public informed should there be any significant deterioration in his health,” Gerwel wrote, urging “all to respect Mr Mandela’s privacy and that of his family.”

Mandela has met Norway’s royal family and other Norwegian officials several times, not least when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1993.