, QUNU, Jun 25 – Nelson Mandela’s close family gathered on Tuesday at his rural homestead to discuss the failing health of the South African anti-apartheid icon who was fighting for his life in hospital.
Messages of support poured in from around the world for the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who spent 27 years behind bars for his struggle under white minority rule and went on to become South Africa’s first black president.
“We must keep him in our prayers and leave the rest to the Almighty to decide on,” Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said.
Family members including one of Mandela’s daughters and at least two grandchildren were seen gathering for a meeting in the village of Qunu, where the charismatic former leader spent his childhood tending cattle and living in mud-walled huts.
The meeting was called “to discuss delicate matters”, according to South Africa’s SAPA news agency, amid speculation that the location of his possible gravesite was on the agenda.
The 94-year-old’s condition appeared to take a significant turn for the worse over the weekend with the presidency announcing on Sunday that he was “critical”.
One of his granddaughters, Ndileka, told AFP on Tuesday that Mandela’s condition was “stable”.
Flowers and messages of support piled up outside the Pretoria hospital where Mandela was admitted on June 8 with a recurring lung problem dating back to his time at the windswept Robben Island prison camp near Cape Town.
“He is a man who changed the world,” said Vusi Mzimanda, who was among the well-wishers.
“He brings hope to everyone,” he said. “I just hope that he will get better and come to us. We don’t want to lose him even though we know it’s late.”
South African President Jacob Zuma, in a televised address, on Monday hailed the life of a man seen as the father of the nation.
“All of us in the country should accept that Madiba is now old,” Zuma said, using Mandela’s clan name.
“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,” added Zuma, who was nevertheless due to travel to Mozambique to attend a regional infrastructure investment summit on Thursday.
Relatives have been gathering at Mandela’s bedside each day as doctors battle to save the moral icon, who was once considered a terrorist by the United States and Britain for his support of violence against the apartheid regime.
Ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela – herself a figurehead of the anti-apartheid struggle – visited the hospital on Monday along with daughters Zindzi Mandela-Motlhajwa and Zenani Mandela-Dlamini and scores of officials.
A few vehicles were seen early Tuesday entering and exiting the hospital but otherwise the scene was quiet except for a pack of waiting journalists.
Messages of goodwill flooded in from overseas, including from the White House, which said its thoughts and prayers were with Mandela.