JOHANNESBURG — South African icon Nelson Mandela has now spent one full month in a Pretoria hospital, where the elderly former president is being treated for a recurring lung infection. Meanwhile, an ugly family feud rages outside the hospital.
Mandela will turn 95 in just 10 days, a huge milestone for a man whose life spanned both South Africa’s dimmest and brightest days. As the nation’s first black president, he is credited with steering the divided country away from civil war and into an era of peace and democracy.
Details about his health are few, and often conflicting. The president’s office, the lone source of official information, has more or less repeated the same three words for the last month. For the first two weeks, Mandela was “serious but stable.” Then his condition worsened, and since then he has been “critical but stable.”
Court papers filed by Mandela’s family at the end of last month indicated he was near death and depended on life support. But a friend who recently visited the aging icon told local media that he has a “very good chance of recovery.”
Only the president’s office is getting live, authoritative reports from Mandela’s doctors, said presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj.
“We have issued a statement saying that he remains in a critical but stable condition," he said. "And the doctors deny that he is in a vegetative state.”
That claim was at the center of explosive court documents filed late last month by members of the Mandela family. The family filed suit against Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, after he moved the bodies of three of Mandela’s children to Mvezo, the village where he is chief.
The family claimed that Mandla Mandela did not consult them on the decision, and insisted the bodies be moved back to the town of Qunu, where Mandela has built his retirement home and has previously indicated he would like to be laid to rest.
In documents filed to the court, the family bloc led by Mandela’s eldest living daughter said the anti-apartheid icon was “in a permanent vegetative state and is assisted in breathing by a life support machine.”
This week, local media reported that Mandla Mandela’s lawyer would file against the family for “misleading” the courts on Mandela’s health.
Mandla Mandela is also facing his possible removal as chief. The ruler of his Thembu tribe has said that Mandla's actions, including a press conference in which he accused his brother of being illegitimate, were not welcome in the tribe.
Mandla Mandela declined to comment when reached by VOA.
The family feud has put the nation in the unusual position of urging Mandela’s family to come together and reconcile their differences.
“Well, it is an unfortunate development, but it is there, and we can not wish it away," said spokesman Maharaj. "And we can only hope it can be solved within the family as amicably, and as soon as possible.”
Words after Mandela’s own heart, as the man revered for bringing his fractured nation back together.