Mandela family ‘considered turning off life support’

2013-07-04 20:17

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The family of former president Nelson Mandela was seriously considering switching off his life-support machines, their advocate told the Mthatha High Court.

City Press is in possession of a Certificate of Urgency filed by Advocate David Smith, who represented 16 Mandela family members in their case against Madiba’s grandson, Mandla Mandela.

The international news agency AFP revealed tonight that Nelson Mandela’s physicians had told the court the former president was in a “permanent vegetative state”.

“I (Smith) have been advised by my instructing attorney that Mr Nelson Mandela’s health has taken a turn for the worst (sic) and that the Mandela family have been advised by the medical practitioners that his life support machine should be switched off. Rather than prolonging his suffering, the Mandela family is exploring this option as a very real probability,” Smith wrote.

He filed the certificate at court last Wednesday – the same day on which President Jacob Zuma cancelled his official state visit to Mozambique because of Madiba’s declining health.

The purpose of the certificate is to convince the court why the matter should be heard on an urgent basis.

The next day, Thursday, June 27, Zuma’s office issued a statement, saying the elder statesman’s health had “improved during the course of the night. He remains critical but is now stable.”

In his certificate, Smith states that the application “relates to the burial rites of former State President Nelson R. Mandela”.

He said the family couldn’t bring a normal application “whilst they await to bury their father and grandfather”.

Smith stated he brought the application on behalf of Mandela’s family “as well as in the interests of Mr Nelson Mandela, who is incapacitated and unable to approach this court in his own name”.

He said, alternatively, the applicants brought the application in the “public interest”.

Smith stated it had always been Madiba’s “desire” for his remains to be buried at his family’s homestead in Qunu.

The remains of three of Mandela’s children – Makgatho, Thembekile and Makaziwe – were buried in a family cemetery.

“In the autumn years of Mr Nelson Mandela’s life, the Mandela family decided to take steps to ensure that they would be able to implement and respect the wishes and accordingly made arrangement for the re-interment of the remains at their family plot in Qunu,” Smith wrote.

Mandla Mandela, according to the advocate, “volunteered” to rebury the remains at a gravesite at the family plot in Qunu.

But the relationship between the Mandela family and Mandla “has taken strain in recent times”.

On “one particular occasion” when Mandla felt “particularly ‘alienated’ by the Mandela family” he dug up the remains on the family plot and transported them to Mvezo.

According to the certificate, it was only when the Mandela family decided to dig up the so-called “graves” in Qunu that they discovered the graves were empty.

Mandla then, according to Smith, admitted that he had “secretly removed the remains to Mvezo”.

Smith then turns to Madiba’s health which, according to him, was “perilous”.

“Affidavits will be provided ... from his treating physicians that he is in a permanent vegetative state and is assisted in breathing by a life-support machine. The anticipation of his impending death is based on real and substantial grounds.”

The applicants were “desirous of burying their father and committing him to the earth in which his descendants’ remains lie. It is incontestable that these are the wishes of Mr Nelson Mandela.”

His family wanted to avoid a situation where Madiba’s remains “are committed to lie in a burial site, entirely alone and forlorn and absent from those remains of his children and grandchildren”.

Smith said it appears Mandla’s desires are that Madiba be interred at Mvezo.

“He knows that it has always been the wish of Mr Nelson Mandela to be buried alongside his children and grandchildren. By controlling the area in which the descendants’ remains are buried, he expects that the remains of Mr Nelson Mandela will soon follow.”

Earlier today, the remains of Madiba’s children were reburied at Qunu after the family succeeded in their court application.

Earlier tonight, in reaction to the revelation of Smith’s certificate, presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj told AFP: “We don’t have a comment on that,” citing doctor-patient confidentiality.

“We have indicated from our point of view that based on the doctors’ report the condition of the former president is critical but stable at this stage.”

The Presidency subsequently released a statement, according to which doctors deny that Mandela is in a vegetative state.

The agency also spoke to Denis Goldberg who visited Mandela on Monday.

Goldberg, who was convicted with Mandela in the Rivonia Trial, told AFP: “He is clearly a very ill man, but he was conscious and he tried to move his mouth and eyes when I talked to him. He is definitely not unconscious,” adding: “he was aware of who I was”.

» This story was updated after first published to add the Presidency's comment.

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