South Africa Denies Mandela in ‘Vegetative’ State

The office of South African President Jacob Zuma denied media reports that Nelson Mandela is in a vegetative state in a Pretoria hospital.

“Former President Mandela has been and remains under the care of a multi-disciplinary panel of South African medical experts,” the Presidency said in a statement yesterday. He is in a “critical, but stable condition” and doctors “deny that the former president is in a vegetative state.”

The 94-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner has been hospitalized since June 8 to receive treatment for a lung infection. Agence France-Presse and Sky News reported yesterday that doctors had advised family members that Mandela’s life support machine should be turned off as he is in a permanent vegetative state. The reports cited court documents dated June 26 that were submitted in relation to a family dispute over the burial site of three of Mandela’s children. President Jacob Zuma said in a statement on June 27 Mandela’s condition had improved after a deterioration earlier in that week.

Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for opposing white minority rule, has been hospitalized four times since December. He shared the Nobel prize in 1993 with F.W. de Klerk for negotiating a peaceful transition to democracy. He became the country’s first black president a year later when the African National Congress won all-race elections. Known by his clan name Madiba, Mandela stepped down after serving a five-year term.

The former leader is “sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes he is in pain, but he is fine,” his wife Graca Machel said yesterday, according to Johannesburg-based EWN.

Family Dispute

Denis Goldberg, who was convicted with Mandela for seeking to overthrow the apartheid state in 1964, told the British Broadcasting Corp. he had visited the former president at Machel’s invitation.

“He is clearly a very ill man but he was in far better shape than I would have imagined from all the reports and the speculation,” Goldberg said in a video posted on BBC’s website. “What a tough old man he is. There has been speculation about switching off whatever machines he’s been on and so I asked about this and Graca said the doctors say there has been no massive organ failure and therefore they are not advising even to think about it at this stage. They think he has a very good chance of recovering.”

Goldberg said on Sky News he visited Mandela on July 1.

Graves Dispute

Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, lost a court battle on July 3 to keep the remains of Mandela’s three children in Mvezo village in Eastern Cape province, where he is the tribal chief. Family members including Mandela’s daughter, Makaziwe, had asked the court to have the bodies returned to Qunu, where they were buried until Mandla removed them two years ago, according to Johannesburg-based City Press newspaper.

Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged the family to reconcile and not sully Mandela’s image.

“Please, please, please may we think not only of ourselves,” Tutu said in an emailed statement yesterday. “Your anguish now is the nation’s anguish, and the world’s. It’s almost like spitting in Madiba’s face” for the family to be at loggerheads, he said.

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