Anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela is on life support, unable to breathe on his own, an elder in the South African icon’s clan said Wednesday, all but extinguishing hopes for his recovery.
“Yes, he is using machines to breathe,” Napilisi Mandela told AFP after visiting the much-loved 94 year old’s bedside in Pretoria. “It is bad, but what can we do.”
Just how bad becomes clearer by the hour. President Jacob Zuma late Wednesday abruptly cancelled a visit planned to neighbouring Mozambique after visting Mandela’s Pretoria hospital.
It is the first time Zuma has scrapped an engagement since Mandela was hospitalised nearly three weeks ago.
Zuma cancelled the trip scheduled for Thursday after he “found him to be still in a critical condition”, a statement from the presidency said.
“President Zuma was briefed by the doctors who are still doing everything they can to ensure his well-being.”
Zuma had been expected to attend a regional investment conference.
Another Mandela family member who asked not to be named, also confirmed the former political prisoner, who was hospitalised on June 8 with a stubborn lung problem, was on life support.
Emotional crowds gathered outside the Pretoria hospital where he is being treated as relatives and clan elders made preparations for the revered former South African leader’s final journey.
Supporters sang hymns for the father of South African democracy and architect of remarkable transition from almost half a century of white minority rule to landmark multiracial elections.
A candlelight vigil was held and on Tuesday a prayer read out by a South African archbishop to wish the Nobel Peace laureate a “peaceful, perfect, end”.
“We have been so united — blacks and whites together. That’s the thought of Mandela in us,” said Lerato Boulares, 35.
With his life seemingly slipping away, messages of support for the anti-apartheid hero blanketed a wall outside the hospital, including a poster bearing one of his most memorable quotes: “It only seems impossible until it’s done”.
Mandela’s lung troubles date from his 27 years locked up on the notorious Robben Island and in other apartheid prisons.
Elders from Mandela’s Thembu clan visited the country’s first black president as his “Rainbow Nation” comes to terms with the increasing frailty of the man fondly known by his clan name Madiba.
A traditional chief, who is also distant nephew of the former statesman, chief Mfundo Mtirara, confirmed to AFP he visited Mandela on Wednesday, but refused to give details.
The elders want to “discuss what should be done,” an unnamed local chief told local daily The Times, alluding to disagreement among family members over his burial site.