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Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition

June 24, 2013|By Robyn Dixon

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital, President Jacob Zuma told journalists at a packed briefing Monday, calling on people to pray for the former South African president's recovery and for the media not to demand details of his treatment or condition.

With South Africans deeply anxious about Mandela's survival, Zuma and his spokesman, Mac Maharaj, called on journalists to respect the privacy of the former president and his family and to stop trespassing on the rules of patient-client confidentiality.

"Doctors are doing everything possible to ensure his well-being and comfort," Zuma said.

TIMELINE: The remarkable life of Nelson Mandela

Zuma said he visited 94-year-old Mandela late on Sunday and found him sleeping. The president said he spoke to doctors and Mandela wife, Graca Machel, who is by her husband's side.

As journalists at the news briefing sought more details on the health of the anti-apartheid leader and national icon, Zuma and  Maharaj showed signs of irritation.

"I said I am not a doctor. I think what I understand is that when a person is critical, the person is critical. I am not a doctor to describe a condition. To say how critical, that's the business of doctors, so I will stop there," said Zuma, declining to offer details on whether Mandela was on a ventilator.

"I think it's important for us to say that Madiba [Mandela's clan name] is critical in hospital and this is the father of democracy ... and therefore he's a man we all love. I think all of us in the country should accept the fact that Madiba is now old and that therefore as he ages, his health will begin to trouble him.

"I think what we need to do as a country is to pray for him to be well and pray for the doctors so that he can be well and come out of the hospital," Zuma said.

He said people could leave tributes where they wished, or simply pray for Mandela at their homes.

"They could go anywhere. Their sympathies will reach Madiba."

Zuma said Mandela's frail health was not a reason to delay President Obama's planned visit to South Africa this week, noting that Mandela had been in frail condition for some time. Obama is also scheduled to visit Senegal and Tanzania during his trip.

Maharaj acknowledged that an ambulance carrying Mandela broke down as it rushed him to a hospital in the early hours of June 8, after his health declined due to a recurring lung infection. However, he said a report the Mandela was waiting for treatment for 40 minutes was false, as was a report that the former leader suffered a cardiac arrest.

Mandela has suffered repeated lung infections in recent years, after contracting tuberculosis during his 27-year prison term in his fight against apartheid.

As reporters pressed for details on Mandela's health Monday, Maharaj said officials were bound by rules of patient-doctor confidentiality. He said officials conveyed what information doctors and the family deemed appropriate, and he lashed out against media reports suggesting that information emanating from the president's office was not to be trusted.

"This incident," he said referring to the ambulance breakdown, "has been used to stimulate the view, 'Don't trust the information from the presidency,'" Maharaj said, calling on the media to respect Madiba's privacy and dignity.

"Ours is the privacy of the patient and the family. Ours is the issue of dignity," he said.

Asked to comment on the treatment Mandela was receiving and the choice of hospital, he retorted, "I think people who are raising these questions are playing God. The people who take the decisions on the hospital and the treatment are the doctors. It's not for us to second-guess them.

"The fact that we are saying that the doctors say he has deteriorated from a serious condition to critical should be sobering to all of us, should raise concerns for all of us. We are saying the doctors are working with might and main to improve his condition and we are hoping his condition will improve."

Before Madiba's condition was reported as critical, his daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, said in an interview with CNN that despite the intense media attention, she felt her father was at peace.

"He is at peace with himself. He has given so much to the world. I believe he is at peace."

She said he was getting the best possible treatment.

"They haven't stopped treating him with all the best medicine in the world. He still opens his eyes ... the touch is there," she said.

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