South African President Jacob Zuma Thursday visited anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela for the second time in under 24 hours, a sign of growing concern about the former president’s health. Mandela has remained in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital for five days, but his condition slightly improved Thursday, officials said.
Mandela has struggled for most of his life: First against South Africa’s racist apartheid system, then for 27 long years in prison, and then to bring his fractured nation together as its president.
His past 19 days in a Pretoria hospital have been a struggle as well, as the former fighter has battled a serious lung infection. For two weeks he was in serious but stable condition. The past five days, he has been in critical condition.
Zuma visited Mandela late Wednesday and then again Thursday afternoon. Zuma determined Wednesday night that Mandela’s condition was severe enough for him to cancel a planned one-day trip to Mozambique. Thursday he was more optimistic, saying the former president had improved overnight.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj praised Mandela’s resilience. The two men got to know each other while imprisoned at Robben Island. Maharaj referred to the former leader by his clan name, Madiba.
“Well, we all know that Madiba is a fighter. He has been through so much, both at the health level and in other arenas of life. He’s endured it all. I think that he has phenomenal willpower. And this is a matter that’s between him and God,” said Maharaj.
President Zuma’s office on Thursday confirmed that the ailing leader’s health has not disrupted U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan to visit South Africa today. The two leaders will hold talks on Saturday.
Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe told state broadcaster SABC that anything is imminent with regards to her father’s condition in an exclusive interview aired Thursday.
“He doesn’t look good, Vuyo, I mean, I’m not going to lie. But I think that for us, as his children and grandchildren, we still have this hope because, you know, when we talk to him, he will flutter trying to open his eyes and will open his eyes. When you touch him he still responds, and I think for us, as his progeny, as long as Tata is still responding, when we talk to him, when we touch him, I think that gives us hope,” she said.
She also criticized the intense media coverage her father has received. Maharaj, too, has verbally tussled with journalists who have pressed the government for detailed information on Mandela. He has also lashed out over unconfirmed reports about the 94-year-old’s medical condition.
Also Thursday, the ruling African National Congress said it would start holding daily prayer sessions for Mandela. Spokesman Keith Khoza said the party urged people to pray for Mandela’s full recovery.
Mandela was the first ANC leader to be elected South African president, and the first black man to be elected president in the nation’s first all-inclusive elections in 1994. He was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in bringing apartheid to an end.