Family flocks to Mandela's bedside

2013-06-24 18:06
(Picture: AFP)

(Picture: AFP)

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Johannesburg - The family of critically ill Nelson Mandela gathered around his hospital bedside on Monday as millions across the world feared for the worst.

"Former president Mandela remains in a critical condition in hospital," President Jacob Zuma said in an address televised to the world and an anxious nation.

"The doctors are doing everything possible to ensure his well being and comfort."

Mandela was rushed to hospital on 8 June with a recurring lung infection.

Despite intensive treatment at Pretoria's Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital, the 94-year-old's condition appears to have suddenly and dramatically deteriorated.

Ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and daughters Zindzi Mandela and Zenani Mandela were among those who flocked to the hospital on Monday.

Their visits, while common since Mandela was admitted 17 days ago, come amid heightened fears for the former statesman's health.

"All of us in the country should accept that Madiba is now old," Zuma said.

"I think what we need to do as a country is to pray for him to be well and that the doctors do their work."

Zuma hailed the life of a man seen as the father of the nation and globally as a moral beacon that continues to shine long after he retired from public life.

Mandela was last seen in public in 2010 at the football World Cup finals in South Africa.

"He is the father of democracy and this is the man who fought and sacrificed his life," said Zuma.

He visited Mandela on Sunday evening, when the Nobel Peace Prize winner was asleep.

"[We] saw him and then we had a bit of discussion with the doctors and his wife Graça Machel," Zuma said.

Mandela has been hospitalised four times since December, mostly for the pulmonary condition that has plagued him for years.

As the world looked on, South Africans resigned themselves to the inevitability of Mandela's decline.

"Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do but to pray for him and the doctors that are helping him," said Phathani Mbath outside the hospital, where flowers, cards and messages of support piled up.

Accepting Mandela’s fate

In Soweto James Nhlapo said South Africa must accept Mandela will not live forever.

"There will soon come a time when all the medical help won't work. We have to face that sad reality now," he said as he served customers in his grocery store.

In Mthatha there was also a sense of anxious resignation.

"It is not up to us to decide what happens now. There is nothing we can do," said Aphiwe Ngesi a teacher in Mthatha. "All we can do is hope for the best."

Well wishes have also come from abroad. In Washington the White House said its thoughts and prayers were with Mandela.

US President Barack Obama leaves Wednesday on a tour of Africa that will take him to South Africa as well as Senegal and Tanzania.

The possibility of a meeting between the first black presidents of both South Africa and the United States has been hotly anticipated, but the White House has said it will defer to Mandela's family that's before Mandela's health deteriorated.

As president, Mandela guided the country away from internecine racial and tribal violence.

It was 18 years ago to the day on Monday, in a deeply symbolic moment, he handed the Rugby World Cup to a victorious Springboks captain Francois Pienaar.

The impact of a black president appearing at this, the most white of South African sporting occasions, still reverberates today.

"Mandela soared above the petty confines of party politics," said political commentator Daniel Silke.

His extraordinary life story, quirky sense of humour and lack of bitterness to his former oppressors has ensured global appeal for the charismatic leader.

The government has been criticised amid revelations that the military ambulance that carried Mandela to hospital developed engine trouble, resulting in a 40-minute delay until a replacement ambulance arrived.

The presidency said Mandela suffered no harm during the wait for another ambulance to take him from his Johannesburg home to a specialist heart clinic in Pretoria 55km away.

"There were seven doctors in the convoy who were in full control of the situation throughout the period. He had expert medical care," said Zuma.

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