JOHANNESBURG: Nelson Mandela is in a critical condition, South Africa's presidency said Sunday, a sudden and significant deterioration in the hospitalised hero's health.
“The condition of former president Nelson Mandela, who is still in hospital in Pretoria, has become critical,” said presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj, 16 days after Mandela was admitted for treatment for a lung infection.
Mandela, now a frail 94-year-old, was previously said to be in a serious but stable condition.
President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela on Sunday evening and was told by doctors “that the former president's condition had become critical over the past 24 hours.”Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president in 1994, is due to celebrate his 95th birthday on July 18.
Zuma sought to assure the country that medics were now doing all they could to save his life.
“The doctors are doing everything possible to get his condition to improve and are ensuring that Madiba is well-looked after and is comfortable. He is in good hands,” Zuma said, using the revered leader's clan name.
Zuma was accompanied to the hospital by the ruling ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa. The two also met with Mandela's wife Graca Machel at the hospital and discussed the condition of the Nobel Peace laureate.
Zuma appealed to South Africans and people worldwide to pray for Mandela, his family and the medics attending to him “during this difficult time.”The reaction was swift. Many South Africans took to social media to express their wish that Mandela get well, or at least be at peace.
As much as Mandela is loved by South Africans, with the latest hospitalisation many have come to terms with their hero's fragility and have begun to look again at his achievements.
During 27 years in jail he became the figurehead of the anti-apartheid movement. On his release he negotiated an end to white rule and won the country's first fully democratic elections.
Sunday's announcement came after unconfirmed media reports that Mandela's condition was worse than what authorities and relatives had been indicating.
US news channel CBS had at the weekend given details of failing organs and said that Mandela was “unresponsive” and “has not opened his eyes for days”. It claimed Mandela's liver and kidneys were operating at 50 per cent of their capacity.
The presidency said that 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.
“The doctors also dismissed the media reports that Madiba suffered cardiac arrest (the day he was taken to hospital). “There is no truth at all in that report,” said Zuma.
“The African National Congress joins The Presidency in calling upon all of us to keep President Mandela, his family and his medical team in our thoughts and prayers during this trying time.”Mandela's grandchildren based in the US also encouraged prayers in a tweet shortly after the news that their grandfather had become critical.