JOHANNESBURG — The family of Nelson Mandela listened late Tuesday as the archbishop of Cape Town offered a prayer asking that the former South African president be granted a "peaceful, perfect end."
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba visited the anti-apartheid icon as he approached day 19 in the Pretoria hospital — surpassing the length of his December stay — where the 94-year-old former president has been receiving treatment for a lung infection.
On Sunday the world leader slid into critical condition, prompting relatives to gather at his home Tuesday in Qunu, Eastern Cape province, to discuss important family matters.
On Wednesday South African President Jacob Zuma, addressing the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) conference in Boksburg, said only that Mandela remains in critical condition and that admirers are encouraged to pray.
Ziphozihle Siwa, Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, also appealed to people of every faith to join him in praying for Mandela, whom he described as a lifelong Methodist.
"We will continue to pray for him, but most importantly, may this time of his illness be a moment where we revisit his ideal of a better world and commit ourselves to be the agents of that better world, as he had given himself to that," said Siwa, who then cited a Bible verse that reminded him of the man celebrated for giving up his own freedom by spending 27 years in prison for his opposition to racist white rule.
"There is that passage of scripture in Matthew, chapter 25, where Jesus speaks to the people who helped the little ones, those who have responded to the needs of those who are suffering in one way or the other," he said. "I think that scripture is very appropriate in this time in the life of Mr. Mandela. When he gave himself to all those, when Jesus says, ‘I was hungry, you gave me food, I was in prison, you visited me.’ In other words, ‘I was in need, and you helped me.’ And so God rejoices with people who have responded in that way.”
Siwa, who says he met with Mandela on many occasions, praised his ability to remain humble even after being elected the nation’s first black president and receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-apartheid struggle.
“He’s very simple. He’s very loving. He’s warm," said Siwa. "He reaches out and sometimes he amazes me about how he remembers people — and not people in high places, but how he remembers ordinary people.”
South Africa's minister of international relations said Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama will not meet with Mandela during his upcoming visit to South Africa.
A White House spokesman would not speculate Monday about how Mandela's health might impact the Obama visit. Jay Carney said only that the president "continues to look forward to the trip" adding that Obama sees Mandela as one of his heroes.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.