, JOHANNESBURG, Jun 24 – The family of critically ill anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela gathered around his hospital bedside on Monday as millions in South Africa and across the world feared for the worst.
“Former president Mandela remains in a critical condition in hospital,” South African 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, the hero of black South Africans’ battle for freedom during 27 years in apartheid jails, was rushed to hospital on June 8 with a recurring lung infection.
Despite intensive treatment at Pretoria’s Mediclinic Heart Hospital, the 94-year-old’s condition appears to have suddenly and dramatically deteriorated.
All of us in the country should accept that Madiba is now old, Zuma said, using Mandela’s clan name.
Ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela – herself a figurehead of the anti-apartheid struggle – and daughters Zindzi Mandela-Motlhajwa and Zenani Mandela-Dlamini 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, 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.”
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, who spent 10 years in jail on Robben Island at the same time as Mandela.
Zuma 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 Graca Machel,” Zuma said.
Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 after almost half a century of apartheid rule, is due to celebrate his 95th birthday on July 18.
He has been hospitalised four times since December, mostly for the pulmonary condition that has plagued him for years.