JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital Wednesday, as elders from his AbaThembu clan traveled from the Eastern Cape to see him.
With hopes for Mandela’s recovery fading, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, shared the prayer that he had read at Mandela’s bedside late Tuesday, for the former South African president, his wife Graca Machel and other family members.
Referring to Mandela by his clan name, the archbishop prayed: “Now enfold Madiba and Graca with compassion, comfort and the conviction that you will never forsake them, but that you will grant Madiba eternal healing and relief from pain and suffering.”
“And may your blessing rest upon Madiba now and always,” the prayer continued. “Grant him, we pray, a quiet night and a peaceful, perfect, end.”
Mandela was admitted to hospital June 8 to be treated for a recurring lung infection. As the days have worn on with no improvement in his condition, South Africans have appeared to reconcile themselves to the somber idea that the much-loved anti-apartheid leader, the country’s first black president, is close to death.
The archbishop referred to “this hard time of watching and waiting” and prayed that the family could shed their fears and “face their grief.”
Makgoba’s words, along with those of presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj saying South Africans should not hold out false hope, are the clearest indication so far that Mandela may be nearing death.
Amid the sadness and grief many felt, South African media aired disturbing reports Wednesday of family turmoil over Mandela’s burial site.
Mandela family members traveled to his home village, Qunu, on Tuesday to brief elders on his condition, news reports said.
The reported disagreement was said to involve a 2011 move by Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, the traditional chief of the Mvezo area in the Eastern Cape, to exhume the bodies of three of the elder Mandela’s children in Qunu, reburying them in his area of Mvezo.
The move was controversial because of reports that Mandela had made it known that he wished to be buried next to his children: Makgato, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 2005, Thembekile, who died in a car accident in 1969, and Makaziwe, who died at the age of 9 months in 1948. Mandla Mandela is Makgato’s son.
At the time, critics saw the move as a ploy to ensure Mandela is buried in Mvezo, capturing future tourism revenue.
The City Press newspaper reported Wednesday that AbaThembu elders visited the Mandela family grave site in Qunu on Tuesday evening to appeal to their ancestors to spare the former leader more suffering. The newspaper reported one elder as saying there was a belief that the ancestors were angry that the three bodies had been moved, and that this anger was the reason for Mandela’s repeated illnesses.
Another newspaper, the New Age, reported activity near the grave site, with graders smoothing a road and six workers in the cemetery, cleaning the area. It was unclear whether the activity signaled that Mandela’s children might be reburied there, whether preparations were being made for Mandela’s funeral, or possibly both.
“It is concerning but clear that the cleaning of those graves has something to do with the condition of Baw’ uMandela,” the newspaper quoted a village elder, Qabukile Mvimbi, as saying, using a traditional honorific.
A Mandela family friend, Bantu Holomisa, who attended the meeting Tuesday in Qunu, told the Mail and Guardian newspaper that there was no mention of funeral arrangements at the gathering.
“The purpose of the meeting was to brief the elders about Mandela’s condition,” he said. “With some family members living in Johannesburg and others in the Eastern Cape, it becomes important to make sure everyone is kept up to speed with the developments. One does not want to leave the elders behind.”
“They were told exactly what President Jacob Zuma has told the nation,” he added. “And it was not a shock to them. They have been monitoring his health and have been reading the newspapers.”
Well-wishers have hung messages of love and support on a wall outside the Pretoria hospital where Mandela is being treated. Twitter has also been full of messages urging him to get well, or to find peace.
Mandela, who is revered for his role in fighting white-minority rule, ushering in a democratic government and promoting racial reconciliation, turns 95 next month. He has battled a series of lung infections in recent years, after contracting tuberculosis while serving 27 years in prison.
Mandela remained in serious condition for over a week after his latest hospital admission, and then was reported to have improved slightly. But his health deteriorated again late last week, and authorities announced Sunday that he was in critical condition.
South African officials have not commented on media reports that Mandela is on life support, saying that this would be a breach of patient-doctor confidentiality.