Nelson Mandela’s daughter decried “vultures” in the news media as the nation awaited word on the condition of its former president.
South Africans held prayer vigils and other demonstrations of concern for Nelson Mandela on Thursday as much of the world waited for word of any change in his condition.
Hundreds demonstrated support outside his Pretoria hospital Thursday. Others gathered in prayer around the small matchbox house that once was his home in Soweto, a mainly black section of Johannesburg that was the center of the struggle against apartheid, government-imposed racial segregation.
“I won’t lie — it doesn’t look good,” daughter Makaziwe Mandela told a South African broadcast outlet after visiting her father. “But as I say, if we speak to him, he responds and tries to open his eyes. He’s still there.”
She complained that news coverage, particularly from foreign outlets, had become intrusive for her family.
“There’s sort of a racist element with many of the foreign media, where they just cross boundaries,” she said. “It’s like truly vultures waiting when a lion has devoured a buffalo, waiting there for the last carcasses. That’s the image that we have, as a family.”
She acknowledged that her father’s condition is grave and that “anything is imminent.” She added, “We don’t mind the interest, but I just think it has gone overboard.”
South African President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela and said he had received an encouraging update from doctors that Mandela’s condition had stabilized, though he was still critically ill.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj, who has been issuing official updates on Mandela’s health, declined to confirm or deny reports based on anonymous sources that said Mandela is on medical life-support equipment.
But Maharaj said in a written statement that the Zuma administration “is disturbed by the rumours that are being spread about former President Mandela’s health” and appealed “for respect for the privacy and dignity of the former President.”
Mandela, who turns 95 next month, has been hospitalized several times this year, most recently since June 8.
He became the country’s first black president in all-race elections in 1994. He served one term after being imprisoned for 27 years for battling apartheid, the official system of racial separation that was in place under the country’s previous white minority rule.
“I want to emphasize again that it’s only God who knows when the time to go is,” Makaziwe Mandela said. “So we will wait with Tata (father). He’s still giving us hope by opening his eyes. He’s still reactive to touch. We will live with that hope until the final end comes.”
Zuma canceled a planned trip to Mozambique because of Mandela’s illness, further raising speculation that the government was preparing for the passing of the man who became a global symbol of the struggles for human rights and reconciliation with former oppressors.
President Obama, on the first leg of a visit to Africa that includes a stop this weekend in South Africa, said he regarded Mandela as a “personal hero.”