JOHANNESBURG, (Reuters) – South African President Jacob Zuma cancelled a trip to neighbouring Mozambique yesterday, intensifying speculation about a deterioration in the health of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, who remains critically ill in hospital.
Zuma made his decision not to leave the country after visiting the 94-year-old late yesterday in the Pretoria hospital where he has been receiving treatment for a lung infection for nearly three weeks.
“Clearly the issue of seriousness has been such that President Jacob Zuma has cancelled his trip,” presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told Talk Radio 702.
He declined to comment on reports that Mandela was on life support, saying: “I cannot confirm any clinical details.”
Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, is revered among most of the country’s 53 million people as the architect of the 1994 transition to multi-racial democracy after three centuries of white domination.
However, his latest hospitalisation – his fourth in six months – has reinforced a realisation that the father of the post-apartheid “Rainbow Nation” will not be around forever.
The deterioration in his health at the weekend to “critical” from “serious but stable” caused a perceptible switch in the national mood, from prayers for his recovery to preparations for a fond farewell.
Maharaj added that it was too early to say whether the seriousness of Mandela’s condition could force changes to the schedule of a planned visit to South Africa this weekend by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Obama is also visiting two other African countries, Senegal and Tanzania, starting in the Senegalese capital on Wednesday night.
PILLAR OF PEACE
Well-wishers’ messages, bouquets and stuffed animals have piled up outside Mandela’s Johannesburg home and the wall of the hospital compound where he is being treated in the heart of the capital.