South African Government Denies Mandela Is "Vegetative"

By: CBS News Email
By: CBS News Email

Associated Press Release
By: JASON STRAZIUSO

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Nelson Mandela is in critical but stable condition, the South African government said Friday, while a close friend said the anti-apartheid leader was conscious and responsive earlier this week.

The government reiterated that Mandela is not in a vegetative state, contrary to recent court documents.

A court paper filed June 27 concerning Mandela family graves said affidavits would be provided from his physicians to show that Mandela "is in a permanent vegetative state." A later filing dropped that phrase. Both court filings, however, said that Mandela's breathing was machine assisted.

A close friend of Mandela's, Denis Goldberg, told Sky News on Friday that he visited Mandela on Monday and that Mandela was conscious and responsive to what he was saying. Goldberg also quoted from something Mandela's wife told him.

"There is no sign of a general organ collapse and therefore they do not recommend switching off the machine because there's every chance that his health will improve," Goldberg quoted wife Graca Machel as saying. "The matter has been discussed and the decision was against."

A "persistent vegetative state" is defined as the condition of patients with severe brain damage in whom coma has progressed to a state of wakefulness without detectable awareness, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Goldberg said the legal papers that said Mandela was "vegetative" might have been written when Mandela was in a coma or unconscious, and that perhaps Mandela then improved.

"Maybe he's recovered a bit and that's what I assume," he said. "The lawyers can say what they like. I'm telling you what I saw."

Still, Mandela's situation is grave. Another court affidavit said that "the anticipation of his impending death is based on real and substantial grounds." A South African doctor, Adri Kok, said it was unlikely that a person of Mandela's age -- he is 94 -- can be taken off mechanical ventilation, another word for life support, and recover.

The court filing came in a case brought by 15 Mandela family members against a Mandela grandson who had moved the remains of three Mandela children from their original burial site. A court ordered the bodies to be moved back to Mandela's hometown of Qunu.

The family feud drew a rebuke late Thursday from retired archbishop Desmond Tutu who appealed to the family of Mandela, also known by his clan name Madiba, to overcome their differences.

"Please, please, please may we think not only of ourselves. It's almost like spitting in Madiba's face," Tutu said in a statement released by his foundation. "Your anguish, now, is the nation's anguish -- and the world's. We want to embrace you, to support you, to shine our love for Madiba through you. Please may we not besmirch his name."

The leader of South Africa's anti-apartheid movement, Mandela spent 27 years in prison during white racist rule. He was freed in 1990 and became South Africa's first black president in 1994.


Associated Press Release

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- A daughter of Nelson Mandela says he is in very critical condition but is still opening his eyes and reacting to touch at the South African hospital where he is being treated.

Makaziwe Mandela told South Africa's state broadcaster on Thursday that the former president and anti-apartheid leader is still giving the family hope, even though "anything is imminent."

She says her family will wait with 94-year-old Mandela until "the time to go."

Makaziwe Mandela's comments were posted on the SABC web site.


CBS News Web Copy

JOHANNESBURG Nelson Mandela is on life support.

The former South African president's condition has worsened over the last couple of days. Well-wishers and supporters continued Wednesday to gather outside of the Pretoria hospital where the former South African president has been receiving treatment for nearly three weeks and the South African president canceled a Thursday trip amid worry about his health.

On Sunday, President Jacob Zuma said the 94-year-old former leader is "well-looked after and is comfortable" but the South African government has been relatively tight-lipped regarding Mandela's health status.

The South African president canceled a Thursday trip to Maputo, the Mozambican capital, where he was to attend a meeting on regional investment.

CBS News Debora Patta reports that 500 miles away from Pretoria, in Mandela's ancestral village of Qunu, there was a lot of activity on Monday.

Family members were observed inspecting a burial site in the area and CBS sources told Patta the meeting was called to resolve a bitter family feud over the removal of graves of other relatives from the site by Mandela's grandson.

South Africans were torn on Wednesday between the desire not to lose a critically ill Nelson Mandela, who defined the aspirations of so many of his compatriots, and resignation that the beloved former prisoner and president is approaching the end of his life.

The sense of anticipation and foreboding about Mandela's fate has grown since late Sunday, when the South African government declared that the condition of the statesman, who was rushed to a hospital in Pretoria on June 8, had deteriorated.

A tide of emotional tributes has built on social media and in hand-written messages and flowers laid outside the hospital and Mandela's home. On Wednesday, about 20 children from a day care center posted a hand-made card outside the hospital and recited a poem.

"Hold on, old man," was one of the lines in the Zulu poem, according to the South African Press Association.

In recent days, international leaders, celebrities, athletes and others have praised Mandela, not just as the man who steered South Africa through its tense transition from white racist rule to democracy two decades ago, but as a universal symbol of sacrifice and reconciliation.

In South Africa's Eastern Cape province, where Mandela grew up, a traditional leader said the time was near for Mandela, who is also known by his clan name, Madiba.

"I am of the view that if Madiba is no longer enjoying life, and is on life support systems, and is not appreciating what is happening around him, I think the good Lord should take the decision to put him out of his suffering," said the tribal chief, Phathekile Holomisa.

"I did speak to two of his family members, and of course, they are in a lot of pain, and wish that a miracle might happen, that he recovers again, and he becomes his old self again," he said. "But at the same time they are aware there is a limit what miracles you can have."

For many South Africans, Mandela's decline is a far more personal matter, echoing the protracted and emotionally draining process of losing one of their own elderly relatives.

One nugget of wisdom about the arc of life and death came from Matthew Rusznyah, a 9-year-old boy who stopped outside Mandela's home in the Johannesburg neighborhood of Houghton to show his appreciation.

"We came because we care about Mandela being sick, and we wish we could put a stop to it, like snap our fingers," he said. "But we can't. It's how life works."

His mother, Lee Rusznyah, said Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison under apartheid before becoming South Africa's first black president in all-race elections in 1994, had made the world a better place.

"All of us will end," Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. "We just want him to be peacefully released, whatever he's feeling at this moment, and to be reunited with his Maker at the perfect time, when God so wills."

The archbishop said: "Ultimately, we are all mortal. At some stage or another, we all have to die, and we have to move on, we have to be recalled by our Maker and Redeemer. We have to create that space for Madiba, to come to terms within himself, with that journey."

On Tuesday, Makgoba visited Mandela and offered a prayer in which he wished for a "peaceful, perfect, end" for the anti-apartheid leader, who was taken to the Pretoria hospital to be treated for what the government said was a recurring lung infection.

In the prayer, he asked for courage to be granted to Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, and others who love him "at this hard time of watching and waiting," and he appealed for divine help for the medical team treating Mandela.

Visitors to the hospital on Wednesday included Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The couple divorced in 1996.

"As he remains in a critical condition in hospital, we must keep him and the family in our thoughts and prayers every minute," President Jacob Zuma said Wednesday.

Mandela, whose 95th birthday is on July 18, served a single five-year term as president and afterward focused on charitable causes, but he withdrew from public life years ago and became increasingly frail in recent years. He last made a public appearance in 2010 at the World Cup soccer tournament, which was hosted by South Africa. At that time, he did not speak to the crowd and was bundled against the cold in a stadium full of fans.

On April 29, state television broadcast footage of a visit by Zuma and other leaders of the ruling party, the African National Congress, to Mandela's home. Zuma said at the time that Mandela was in good shape, but the footage — the first public images of Mandela in nearly a year — showed him silent and unresponsive, even when Zuma tried to hold his hand.

"Let's accept instead of crying," said Lucas Aedwaba, a security officer in Pretoria who described Mandela as a hero. "Let's celebrate that the old man lived and left his legacy."

Dan Lehman, an American academic, chose a jogging route on Wednesday morning that passed by the hospital where Mandela is being treated.

"I was just going out for my morning run down here and come to pay my respects to the greatest man in the world," Lehman said. Then he began to cry.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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