South Africa’s president visited a gravely ill Nelson Mandela in the hospital Wednesday night and canceled a visit planned for the next day to Mozambique, an indication of heightened concern about the deteriorating health of the man widely considered the father of the country.
President Jacob Zuma found 94-year-old Mandela to still be in critical condition during the 10 p.m. visit and was briefed by doctors “who are still doing everything they can to ensure his well-being,” Zuma’s office said in a statement.
It said the president decided to cancel a visit today to Maputo, the Mozambican capital, where he was to attend a meeting on regional investment.
As worries about Mandela mounted, Mac Maharaj, the presidential spokesman, declined to comment on media reports that the former president and anti-apartheid leader was on life support systems in the Pretoria hospital where he was taken June 8 to be treated for what the government said was a recurring lung infection.
“I cannot comment on the clinical details of these reports because that would breach the confidentiality of the doctor/patient relationship,” Maharaj said in an interview with South Africa’s Radio 702.
South Africans were torn Wednesday between the desire not to lose Mandela, who defined the aspirations of so many of his compatriots, and resignation that the beloved former prisoner and president is approaching the end of his life.
The sense of anticipation and foreboding about Mandela’s fate has grown since late Sunday, when the South African government declared that the condition of the statesman had deteriorated.
A tide of emotional tributes has built on social media and in hand-written messages and flowers laid outside the hospital and Mandela’s home. On Wednesday, about 20 children from a day care center posted a hand-made card outside the hospital and recited a poem.
“Hold on, old man,” was one of the lines in the Zulu poem, according to the South African Press Association.
In recent days, international leaders, celebrities, athletes and others have praised Mandela, not just as the man who steered South Africa through its tense transition from white racist rule to democracy two decades ago, but as a universal symbol of sacrifice and reconciliation.
In South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, where Mandela grew up, a traditional leader said the time was near for Mandela, who is also known by his clan name, Madiba.
“I am of the view that if Madiba is no longer enjoying life, and is on life support systems, and is not appreciating what is happening around him, I think the good lord should take the decision to put him out of his suffering,” said the tribal chief, Phathekile Holomisa.
“I did speak to two of his family members, and of course, they are in a lot of pain, and wish that a miracle might happen, that he recovers again, and he becomes his old self again,” he said. “But at the same time they are aware there is a limit what miracles you can have.”
“All of us will end,” Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, said Wednesday. “We just want him to be peacefully released, whatever he’s feeling at this moment, and to be reunited with his maker at the perfect time, when God so wills.”
The archbishop said: “Ultimately, we are all mortal. At some stage or another, we all have to die, and we have to move on, we have to be recalled by our Maker and Redeemer. We have to create that space for Madiba, to come to terms within himself, with that journey.”
Visitors to the hospital Wednesday included Mandela’s former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The couple divorced in 1996.
Mandela, whose 95th birthday is July 18, served a single five-year term as president and afterward focused on charitable causes, but he withdrew from public life years ago and became increasingly frail in recent years.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.