Messages for Nelson Mandela; hope turns to resignation

Story highlights

  • Mood darkens in South Africa as Nelson Mandela's condition remains critical
  • More messages are being pinned on a wall outside the hospital in Pretoria
  • Media has gathered since announcement Sunday that condition had worsened
  • Headlines in local newspapers suggest struggle may be coming to an end

Handwritten messages pinned to a makeshift memorial board outside a Pretoria hospital describe the fear and resignation felt by many ordinary South Africans that Nelson Mandela may not be with them much longer.

"You are and will always be a true legend and grandfather to us all," reads one note tied around the neck of a little white bear. Another, placed with a bunch of proteas, the country's national flower, says "Tata Mandela you have touched our lives and blessed us in more ways than one. We love you."

Many of the messages appear to be written by children, in colored glue and pen, including one which features the hand prints of children still far too young to understand the indelible mark the former president has left on their country.

The touching and very personal tributes started appearing on the wall on June 8, the day Mandela was admitted to hospital for a recurring lung infection.

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However, what was hoped to be a short stint has stretched into its 19th day, the longest period of hospitalization ever for a man known not for his physical strength but personal fortitude.

Headlines in local newspapers leave little doubt about the challenges Mandela, or Madiba as he's known here, faces after a life of struggle at the age of 94.

Against a predominantly black front page, the Daily Sun's lead headline reads: "The Final Struggle," with the sub headline "Critical Hours for Madiba."

    On Sunday, President Jacob Zuma announced that Mandela's condition had slipped from stable to critical, prompting a private meeting of his closest family members Tuesday.

    It's not known what they discussed but the meeting added further worry as onlookers waited for an update from the presidential office on Mandela's condition.

    Since his condition worsened on Sunday, media crews from around the world have made their way to the street outside the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria.

    Late Tuesday, in an ominous sign, large numbers of police officers descended on the area, setting up road blocks at either end of the Celliers street, where the hospital is located.

    Pedestrians are being allowed to move back and forth across the barriers, as are cars, but most media crews remain parked for fear of losing their space in what's fast becoming a very crowded street.

    A number of satellite trucks have been moved into position, beaming live broadcasts around the world -- further evidence, if any is needed, of Mandela's influence beyond the borders of his homeland.

    In between reports, journalists struggle to stay warm; it's winter in South Africa and while the sun warms the air throughout the day, at night temperatures fall below freezing.

    No one knows how long the wait will last.

    If the darkening mood is anything to go by, it may not be long until South Africa is forced to confront the reality that some hoped would never come.