Family gathers as fears grow for ‘critical’ Mandela

June 24, 2013 5:52 pm
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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.

In Soweto, the township where Mandela lived for more than a decade, 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, a rural town in the region where Mandela grew up, 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.

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.

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.

Upon his release from jail in 1990 in one of the defining moments of the 20th century, Mandela negotiated an end to white rule and won the country’s first fully democratic elections.

As president he 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 South African 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 55 kilometres (30 miles) 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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