Official says Nelson Mandela on life support; Zuma cancels travel plans

Updated 6:33 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
02:41 - Source: CNN
Nelson Mandela now on life support

Story highlights

NEW: South African president cancels Thursday's trip to Mozambique

Mandela is now on life support, an official says

Family collects some of the items left outside the hospital by well-wishers

Pretoria, South Africa CNN —  

South Africans lit candles outside the hospital where anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela lay Wednesday night amid a report that the former president was on life support.

An official briefed on his condition said he was on life support, but government spokesman Mac Maharaj declined to comment on the report, citing doctor-patient confidentiality.

Mandela, 94, considered the founding father of South Africa’s multiracial democracy, has been hospitalized since June 8 for a recurring lung infection.

Authorities have described his condition as critical since Sunday, and after visiting him late Wednesday night, President Jacob Zuma canceled his visit to Mozambique where he was supposed to attend a summit Thursday on infrastructure investment.

As the nation remained on edge, police barricaded the street leading to the hospital’s main entrance. Well-wishers hung balloons, stuffed animals and messages of support along the wall, and crowds hovering nearby sang “Where is Mandela?”

“We need you!,” one sign read. “We love you tata, get well soon!” said another, referring to Mandela by the Xhosa word for father.

Several relatives came out to collect some of those items Wednesday.

“He’s going to feel a lot better when he sees these signs,” said David Manaway, Mandela’s grandson-in-law.

Why Mandela has six names

His former physician and the nation’s ex-surgeon general, Dr. Vejay Ramlakan, also visited the hospital Wednesday, said the national news agency, South African Press Association.

Mandela became an international figure while enduring 27 years in prison for fighting against apartheid, the country’s system of racial segregation. He was elected the nation’s first black president in 1994, four years after he was freed.

Nelson Mandela Fast Facts

“He is our hero. He is my mentor, my father. He is everything to me,” said Kuda Nyahumzvi, 36. “But when it is his time, we wish his soul could just rest. He spent so long in jail and struggling.”

Even as he has faded from the spotlight, he remains popular and is considered a hero of democracy worldwide.

Cape Town’s archbishop led Nelson Mandela’s family in prayer on Tuesday, calling for “a quiet night and a peaceful, perfect, end” for the former South African president.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba prayed with Mandela’s family at the Pretoria hospital where the anti-apartheid icon remains in critical condition, the South African Press Association reported.

“Fill them with your holy courage and the gift of trusting faith, and take away their fears so that they may dare to face their grief,” he said, according to a copy of the prayer posted on the bishop’s website.

“Guide the medical staff so that they may know how to use their skills wisely and well, in caring for Madiba and keeping him comfortable,” Makgoba said, using Mandela’s traditional clan name. “And uphold all of us with your steadfast love so that we may be filled with gratitude for all the good that he has done for us and for our nation, and may honor his legacy through our lives.”

7 Things You Can Learn From Nelson Mandela’s Life

During the meeting in Qunu, funeral arrangements were not part of the talks, family friend Bantu Holomisa said, according to SAPA.

As a former head of state, plans for Mandela’s funeral are spearheaded by the government, according to Holomisa.

Mandela turns 95 in July.

He last appeared in public in 2010.

CNN’s Faith Karimi wrote and contributed from Atlanta. CNN’s Brent Swails, Matt Smith, Catherine E. Shoichet, John Raedler and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.