Controversial even in death, South Africa's presidential spokesman, Parks Mankahlana (1964-2000) was laid to rest amid persistent rumours in the media chat he died of HIV/Aids. He spoke his last words on 26 October, after a long illness stretching back four months. His journalist-wife, Nthabiseng, angrily insists that he died of heart failure arising from chronic anaemia. At the time of writing, the cause of death was officially unknown.
Born in 1964, Parks as he was popularly known, grew up as an activist, playing a crucial role in student and youth policies. He studied law at the University of Fort Hare between 1984 and 1986, and as was the fate of most activists, he was expelled from the University.
He joined the United Democratic Front which was instrumental in the 1980s in bringing apartheid to its knees, before joining the ANC underground in 1987. He was national publicity secretary for the South African Youth Congress before becoming secretary for information of the ANC youth league in 1991.
On Nelson Mandela's ascendancy to power, Parks was appointed presidential spokesman, a position he also held under Mbeki until his passing.
He had a reputation as an excellent, professional media practitioner and enjoyed a good relation with the media until the wedding of Nelson Mandela to Graca Machel. Wishing to keep the marriage completely private, Mandela issued his edict of secrecy. The unpleasant duty fell on Parks to persistently deny the event: "There is no wedding," he kept telling the media even when the wedding was actually in...