The nation’s first-black president remains in critical condition, Zuma said in an e-mailed statement from his office, after visiting Mandela in a hospital in Pretoria, the capital, today. Zuma canceled a trip to neighboring Mozambique scheduled for today after visiting Mandela, 94, last night. Mandela was admitted to the intensive-care unit on June 8 to receive treatment for a recurring lung infection.
“He is much better today than he was when I saw him last night,” Zuma said in a statement issued by his office today. “The medical team continues to do a sterling job.”
Hundreds of South Africans, many of them children, have been flocking to the hospital, leaving cards, balloons, flowers and messages of support for the country’s first black president.
“Our thoughts and prayers right now are with the people of South Africa,” U.S. President Barack Obama, who is scheduled to arrive in the southern African nation late tomorrow for an official visit, told reporters today in Dakar, Senegal. Mandela is “a hero for the world. His legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages.”
Mandela’s wife Graca Machel and his grandson, Mandla, were among those seen leaving the hospital today while 93-year-old Josephine Siwela, who clutched a copy of Mandela’s book “Conversations with Myself,” was among a crowd of more than 600 people outside.
“All this singing and chanting is to show our love and appreciation for the man lying on that hospital bed,” Bafana Mtsweni, an unemployed 24-year-old resident of Mamelodi, a township near Pretoria, said in an interview. “We still want to be with him.”
Mandela, who is due to turn 95 next month, became the president of the continent’s largest economy after his African National Congress won the country’s first all-race elections in 1994. He spent 27 years in jail for opposing white-minority rule and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Doctors downgraded Mandela’s condition to critical on June 23. He is on life support machines to help him breathe, the London-based Daily Telegraph reported, citing Napilisi Mandela, a member of Mandela’s clan.
Residents of an apartment block opposite the hospital cashed in on the influx of journalists, charging them 5 rand ($0.50) to use their bathrooms and 50 rand to shoot aerial pictures of the hospital.
“He stood for love, peace and unity and we want to commemorate that,” said Saleem Joosub, 47, the leader of a group of about 35 people who attached a huge banner wishing Mandela well to a wall. “He stood for equality and freedom. As much as he gave us freedom, we need him to also be free.”
Mandela continues to open his eyes and respond to touch, his daughter Makaziwe told the state-owned SAfm radio station today.
“I can reiterate that Tata is very critical,” she said, using the Xhosa-language word for father. “Anything is imminent. It’s only God who knows when the time to go is.”
“Every improvement in my grandfather’s health is cause for celebration,” Mandla Mandela said in an e-mailed statement.
Zuma was scheduled to attend an infrastructure conference hosted by the Southern African Development Community in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo. He decided to cancel his trip after visiting Mandela at about 10 p.m. local time yesterday and speaking to his doctors, Zuma’s office said.
“The Presidency is disturbed by the rumors that are being spread about former President Mandela’s health,” it said in the statement. “We appeal for respect for the privacy and dignity of the former president.”
The ruling ANC also said it was concerned that rumors that were being circulated about Mandela’s health.
“We call upon all South Africans to desist from such unhelpful and hurtful rumors,” the party said in an e-mail. “The Presidency remains the only authoritative source of information regarding the health of President Mandela.”
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