South Africans Flock to Mandela’s Hospital to Praise Him

South Africans posted messages of support and sang songs of praise outside the hospital where President Nelson Mandela remained in a critical condition.

More than 150 people, many of them children, stuck cards, balloons, flowers and messages of support on the wall of the hospital in Pretoria, the capital, while they waited for news about the 94-year-old former president, who was admitted to the intensive-care unit on June 8 to receive treatment for a recurring lung infection.

“We went there because my children wanted to drop off letters to show their appreciation,” Pertunia Legodi, 35, said in an interview outside the hospital. “He’s like a father to us, we love him so much.”

Doctors downgraded Mandela’s condition to critical on June 23. “We must keep him and the family in our thoughts and prayers every minute,” President Jacob Zuma said in a speech in Johannesburg today. Zuma visited Mandela about 10 p.m., the president’s office said in a statement. Mandela was still in critical condition, and Zuma canceled a trip to Mozambique scheduled for tomorrow, according to the statement.

Mandela, the nation’s first black president, spent 27 years in jail for opposing white minority rule under apartheid. Most of his imprisonment was on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, where he contracted tuberculosis. He took office in 1994 when the ruling African National Congress won the first multiracial elections, stepping down after serving one five-year term.

‘God Bless’

Robbin Sacco, 5, accompanied by her mother, stuck a thank-you message on the wall along with letters and cards from people as far away as Ethiopia and Sudan.

“He created the picture of how South Africa would be and he had faith, and that’s why I’m here,” Robbin’s mother Jacque, 32, said in an interview outside the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital. “I would have given up long ago but he had that faith.”

A message by Thandu’xolo Day Care reads: “Dear Tata, our prayers are with you and your family. God bless.” Tata means father in the Zulu and Xhosa languages.

Mandela and former leader F.W. de Klerk, the nation’s last white president, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the their work to end apartheid.

Members of Mandela’s family and the AbaThembu clan from his ancestral home of Qunu, in Eastern Cape province, have been meeting since yesterday to discuss his health, according to reports by the Johannesburg-based Times newspaper.

Florah Nkosi, 52, was dressed in her blue and white church uniform to offer prayers for Mandela and his family.

“To the family of Mandela, I say hold each other in unity, follow in his footsteps,” she said in an interview. “His life is in Gods’ hands now, but we should not be afraid to pray for him to get better.”

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