A tribal chief who talked with family members of Nelson Mandela hinted that the former leader is on life support.
JOHANNESBURG — 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 94-year-old 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 handwritten messages and flowers laid outside the hospital and Mandela’s home. On Wednesday, about 20 children from a day care center posted a handmade card outside the hospital and recited a poem.
Gallery: Nation waits for news on Mandela
“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.”