South African President Jacob Zuma has cancelled a one-day trip to neighboring Mozambique amid reports that anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital for a fifth day. His condition is overshadowing a planned visit to South Africa by U.S. President Barack Obama, but has not yet prompted the American president to change his plans.
The South African presidency remains tight-lipped about medical details, but it appears the former South African leader may be in a dire condition.
“Now and again,” Nelson Mandela once said, “ there have been rumors that my health has broken down and that I am on my last legs."
He said that in 1981. Now, 32 years later - with a presidential term and a Nobel Peace Prize in the rearview mirror - there may finally be some truth to that rumor.
South Africa’s beloved anti-apartheid icon is in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital after a 19-day stay. His condition Wednesday night was severe enough to cause President Jacob Zuma to cancel a one-day trip to Mozambique Thursday.
However, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said the ailing leader’s health has not yet changed U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan to visit South Africa on Friday. Maharaj said the two governments were still discussing the situation.
The presidency has been guarded about specific medical details.
“I think all it is saying is that there is sufficient cause for concern. ... Doctors are doing everything possible, but President Zuma has felt that it is more important to be at home. And that’s all it is saying. We’re not saying it is, how far, whether it has deteriorated or not," said Maharaj. "Doctors keep saying his condition is critical, and we accept that for what it means.”
Maharaj has repeatedly tussled with journalists who have pressed the government for detailed information on Mr. Mandela. He has also lashed out over unconfirmed reports about the 94-year-old’s medical condition.
“The rumors are going on. They have been going on for a long time. And we do not want to spend our time contradicting rumors and making that a story to create an atmosphere of panic among the public," Maharaj added. "I think there is already a reasonable atmosphere of somberness, of seriousness in the country, and of people reflecting on the meaning of Mandela, and wanting to celebrate his life. And so that is the space we are sitting in. And we think that working together, with the tasks that media have and government has, and the challenges faced by the family, we can manage this process with dignity and with regard to privacy.”
The concern about Mandela’s condition is widespread and goes beyond the borders of South Africa. He is without doubt South Africa’s most beloved citizen because of his decades-long struggle to end the racist apartheid system. He spent 27 years in prison for that cause, to emerge triumphant and preach forgiveness among the nation’s divided race groups.