Nelson Mandela, the former South African president now critically ill in hospital with a lung infection, is “at peace” and his family are praying for a “smooth transition”, his daughter Makaziwe has said.
Mrs Mandela, 59, the sole surviving child from his first marriage to Evelyn, said the family were enjoying “quality and sacred moments” with Mr Mandela, who led South Africa out of apartheid into democratic elections in 1994.
“All we do every day is take one day at a time and pray to the good Lord,” Mrs Mandela said in an interview with CNN.
“All I pray for as a daughter is that the transition is smooth. He is at peace with himself. He has given so much to the world. I believe he is at peace.”
On Sunday night, President Jacob Zuma visited Mr Mandela at the Pretoria hospital where he has been treated for the past two weeks and was told by doctors that his condition is “critical” for the first time since his admission.
His announcement of the downturn was greeted with intense sadness among South Africans. Last week, it was suggested that Mr Mandela might be recovering from the latest in a series of lung infections that have seen him in and out of hospital in the past year but such hopes are now fading.
Speculation is growing about whether Barack Obama, the US president who is due to visit South Africa on Friday as part of his first major tour of the continent since taking office, will change his plans.
He is due to meet Jacob Zuma in Pretoria and tour Soweto township, where Mr Mandela once lived, before flying to Cape Town to visit Robben Island, where he was imprisoned.
Mr Zuma told a press conference in Johannesburg on Monday that “nothing” would stop the visit. A spokesman for the US Embassy said that they were continuing with preparations “for now” but were keeping abreast of developments.
Meanwhile, friends of Mr Mandela were seen visiting him in hospital for the first time since his admission in the early hours of Saturday June 8, along with his daughters and other members of his extended family.
Mr Mandela’s granddaughters Swati Dlamini and Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway said in a tweet that the family was “united” at his bedside. “He is our rock, we are firmly glued together because of him,” they said.
Mr Zuma said that he had no interaction with Mr Mandela during his visit on Sunday because the 94-year- was asleep, but he spoke to his wife Graca and his medical team.
“The doctors are doing everything possible to ensure his well-being and comfort,” he said, referring to Mr Mandela by his clan name, Madiba.
Asked whether Mr Mandela was in pain, he responded: “I can’t tell you what is wrong with him. I’m not a doctor. What I understand is when a person is critical, he is critical.”
“This is the father of democracy, the man who fought and sacrificed his life. Therefore he is the man we all love. All of us in the country should accept that Madiba is now old, and that as he ages, his health troubles him. What we need to do as a country is to pray for him to be well, to ensure that the doctors do their work so that he could come out of hospital.
“If we do that, we are honouring Madiba in his life.”
Makaziwe Mandela, speaking before the revelation last night that her father was in a critical condition, appealed to the media feeding a voracious public interest in South Africa’s first black president to “back off”.
“It’s our dad. It’s the children’s grandfather. We’ve never had him in our life for better part of our years,” she told CNN.
“This is in a sense quality and sacred time for us, and I would expect the world to really back off and leave us alone.
“Nelson Mandela’s blood runs through these veins. Our veins. Give us the space to be with our father. Whether these are the last moments with us to be with our dad or there is still a longer. But they must back off.”
Mac Maharaj, Mr Zuma’s spokesman who spent time imprisoned on Robben Island with Mr Mandela, said that if there was a “substantive change” to his condition, the president would pass the news on.
“The doctors are working night and day to improve his condition and we are hoping his condition will improve,” he said.
Asked about suggestions that Mr Mandela’s life was being prolonged because of who he was, he said: “I think the people raising that question are playing God. The people who take the decisions about which hospital he goes to and what treatment he has are the doctors. They do not consult anyone.
“The former president Mandela has full confidence in the doctors, the government has full confidence in the doctors and the family has full confidence in the doctors.”