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Daughter calls Mandela's final months excruciating to watch

By Robyn Curnow, CNN
updated 8:58 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
  • Daughter says Nelson Mandela's death was a relief after he suffered so much
  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called Mandela's treatment in his final months "disgraceful"
  • Maki Mandela says she questioned doctors about prolonging her father's life
  • But his medical team "treated him with dignity and respect," she says

Johannesburg (CNN) -- He suffered greatly in his final months, but Nelson Mandela's last breaths were peaceful, says his eldest daughter, Maki Mandela.

She describes the end as a "beautiful passing on" but says his death and burial came as a relief to her after his long health struggles.

"There were times I was telling the doctors I think enough is enough," Maki Mandela says in an exclusive interview with CNN from her home in Johannesburg.

"As doctors they had their duty to try everything up to the last moment, but for me as a daughter it was excruciating watching that."

The former South African President, who led his country out of decades of apartheid after being imprisoned 27 years, died in December at age 95.

Nelson Mandela, the prisoner-turned-president who reconciled South Africa after the end of apartheid, died on December 5, 2013. He was 95. Nelson Mandela, the prisoner-turned-president who reconciled South Africa after the end of apartheid, died on December 5, 2013. He was 95.
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For a year before his death, her father was on dialysis for kidney failure and a ventilator to help him breathe. He was fed intravenously through tubes into his stomach, and his arms and hands grew swollen due to the intravenous antibiotics and other medications he was receiving.

Bedridden and incontinent, the Nobel Peace Prize winner had no quality of life, his daughter says.

Recently writing in favor of assisted dying, former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu questioned the treatment of Nelson Mandela in his final months, saying it was "disgraceful." In an editorial for Britain's The Observer, Tutu singled out South African President Jacob Zuma and other politicians who took photos with a clearly confused and ill Mandela and called it an "affront to his dignity."

Maki Mandela says she constantly questioned her father's team of state medical doctors about why his life was being prolonged.

"I said, 'Guys, when do we accept that we have reached the end and we can't play God?' "

But she says she accepted the doctors' decisions and knows they were bound to "try everything."

She says she couldn't fault the care and dedication of the team of medics and nurses who looked after her father 24 hours a day. "They treated him with dignity and respect," she says.

Throughout his long illness, his heart remained strong, perhaps not surprising for a man who dedicated his life to the struggle against apartheid and helped to lead his nation to democracy.

"When the heart started giving, it was a matter of days," Maki Mandela says.

The anti-apartheid icon was buried on his farm in Qunu, a remote rural area in the Eastern Cape where he grew up.

"That whole place is a quarry. We had to dynamite the place for us to create his burial place," Maki Mandela says, adding that her father chose the location.

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In keeping with traditions of his Xhosa tribe, Nelson Mandela was laid to rest on a reed mat on the floor of the grave, as if he had gone to sleep like his ancestors did in generations past. The architecture of the grave is such that his coffin is not covered with soil, which is considered bad luck.

Maki Mandela says she and most family members have not been to visit his grave recently but hope to do so soon.

"People are starting to say, make requests, 'Can we visit the grave?' " she says.

She says it's too early now but expects the family will open the area to visitors and tourists in a year or so.

Plans are in place for a visitors' center and memorial garden, where tourists will be able to walk around the grave and see it from a viewing point.

And in homage to Nelson Mandela's royal lineage and his monumental legacy, his family has given the grave site the nickname of "The Big House."

READ: Remembering Madiba: 1918 - 2013

READ: Amanpour blog: Mandela's long-time assistant Zelda la Grange recalls her early racism

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