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Nelson Mandela not well but still teaching lessons, his family says

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Nelson Mandela, the former freedom fighter and South Africa's first democratically elected president, now lives at home in a sterilized bedroom rigged as an intensive care unit. A team of doctors attends him around the clock.

And in a stark reminder of Mandela's ongoing health crisis, grandson Ndaba Mandela and daughter Makaziwe Mandela told South African journalists Tuesday that the 95-year-old was struggling.

"He is still with us although he is not doing well at home in bed," Ndaba Mandela said.

BREAKING NEWS: Nelson Mandela dies at 95

Makaziwe Mandela told state-owned television network SABC that her father was teaching the family life lessons from what she termed his "deathbed."

"Tata is still with us, strong, courageous," she said, using the Xhosa word for father. "Even, for a lack of a better word, on his deathbed, he is teaching us lessons; lessons in patience, in love, lessons of tolerance.

"Every moment I get with him, I’m amazed," she added. "There are times where I have to pinch myself that I come from this man who is a fighter, even though you can see he is struggling, but fighting spirit is still there with him."

Many South Africans call Mandela "Tata," a term of respectful endearment that acknowledges his role in South Africa's liberation from apartheid, a system that denied blacks the vote, segregated them into poorly served townships and relegated them to a second-class education.

Last month, Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, told a South African newspaper that Mandela's room had to be kept completely sterile so that he would not catch an infection.

She said he could no longer speak because of tubes in his throat to clear fluid from his lungs, but that he communicated with facial gestures.

Mandela spent three months in a hospital beginning in June, when he was admitted with severe pneumonia. Documents filed by one side of the family in an ugly court battle at the time said he was nearing death, according to local media reports.

Adding to the national distress was news that when he was rushed to hospital on a cold, wintry night, his ambulance broke down on a highway and he had to wait for another to arrive.

Mandela's hospitalization saw South Africa almost paralyzed with anxiety and grief, as thousands of South Africans sent goodwill messages, or visited his hospital to leave messages of support.

He was discharged in September.

The South African president's office said last month that Mandela's condition remained critical but that he was stable and responding to treatment.

Last month, the Nelson Mandela Center of Memory, founded by the former president, opened its doors. It is a center designed to foster dialogue, and contains an exhibition on his life as well as an archive of his works, available only to researchers.

The film "Long Walk to Freedom," about Mandela's life, also opened last week in South Africa to largely positive reviews. According to the film's production company, Videovision Entertainment, it out-grossed "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" and other blockbusters in South Africa over the weekend, and broke South African box-office records.

The British publishing company Opus Media on Tuesday launched the "Nelson Mandela Opus," an 850-page tome on his life that will be released next year. The limited-edition book will weigh more than 80 pounds, and its cover will measure almost 20 inches square.

Opus books generally sell for several thousand dollars each. Ten thousand copies are to be sold.

[For the record, 2:55 p.m. Dec. 4: An earlier version of this post said the "Nelson Mandela Opus" would be 85 pages long. It will be 850 pages.]

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Twitter: @latimesdixon

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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