South Africans hold their breath as Nelson Mandela's health worsens

June 27, 2013|By Robyn Dixon

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The health of former President Nelson Mandela, already critical, has deteriorated further in the past two days, according to a government official Thursday, as the nation prepared for his death.

As Mandela spent his 20th day in a hospital after contracting pneumonia early this month, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told state-owned SABC news that Mandela's condition had worsened, forcing President Jacob Zuma to cancel a trip to Mozambique  on Thursday.

Zuma visited Mandela in the hospital late Wednesday, and subsequently decided to cancel the trip, a move seen as underscoring Mandela's fragility. It marked the first time that Zuma made a significant change in his official schedule because of the elder statesman's health.

PHOTOS: South Africans hold vigil outside hospital treating Nelson Mandela

A statement announcing the cancellation of the trip said doctors were "still doing everything they can to ensure [Mandela's] well-being."

South Africans have left messages of love and support outside the hospital, Mandela's home and on social media networks, but in recent days the tone has changed -- from hope for recovery to gratitude for what he has done for South Africa.

Mandela is revered as the man whose struggle against apartheid and huge personal sacrifice of 27 years' imprisonment helped bring equality to South Africa.

But he often urged supporters not to think of him as a saintly figure, and to remember the thousands of others who also struggled for black freedom from oppression.

He retired from public life in 2004 and has played no active role in the ruling African National Congress since, concentrating instead on charitable work.

But though his death would have little effect on South Africa's political landscape, he remains a person of enormous emotional significance to South Africans, as a freedom fighter who brought democracy and racial reconciliation to the country.


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