Nelson Mandela in Critical Condition for Second Day
JOHANNESBURG — President Jacob Zuma said on Monday that Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition for a second day in a hospital in Pretoria where he is being treated for a lung infection.
“Doctors are doing everything possible to ensure his well-being and comfort,” Mr. Zuma said at a news conference in Johannesburg, but he gave few details about the condition of Mr. Mandela, who was hospitalized on June 8.
Mr. Zuma spoke as South Africans and admirers around the world awaited word on the condition of Mr. Mandela, the iconic leader who played a towering role in his country’s transition from white minority rule under the system of apartheid to multiracial democracy in 1994.
Mr. Zuma said that he and Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president of the governing African National Congress, visited Mr. Mandela late Sunday.
“Given the hour, he was already asleep. We were there, looked at him, saw him and then we had a bit of a discussion with the doctors and his wife,” Mr. Zuma said. “I don’t think I’m in a position to give further details. I’m not a doctor.”
Doctors told Mr. Zuma on Sunday evening that Mr. Mandela’s health “had become critical over the past 24 hours,” according to an earlier statement from the presidency.
In the statement on Sunday, Mr. Zuma said that doctors were doing “everything possible to get his condition to improve and are ensuring that Madiba is well looked after and is comfortable.” Madiba is Mr. Mandela’s clan name.
The language used in the statement was the strongest yet concerning Mr. Mandela’s health.
On Saturday, the president, seeking to play down news reports about Mr. Mandela’s deteriorating health, described his condition as “serious but stable.”
Mr. Mandela, who was freed by the apartheid government in 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment, became South Africa’s first black president after the country’s first all-race elections in 1994. He retired from public life in 2004.
He has not been seen in public since the World Cup soccer final in South Africa in July 2010 and has been hospitalized four times since December, mostly for the pulmonary condition that has plagued him for years.
The South African government faced criticism over the weekend after it confirmed reports that the military ambulance carrying Mr. Mandela to the hospital had broken down, leaving him waiting on the roadside until a replacement vehicle arrived.
Mr. Zuma said he had been assured by doctors that “all care” had been taken to ensure that Mr. Mandela’s condition was not compromised during that time. Media reports that Mr. Mandela had suffered a cardiac arrest on that same night contained “no truth,” he added.
“There were seven doctors in the convoy who were in full control of the situation throughout the period,” he said. “He had expert medical care.”
Mac Maharaj, Mr. Zuma’s spokesman, denied reports by CBS News that Mr. Mandela waited 40 minutes for a replacement ambulance. “Not correct. Full stop,” he said, but declined to say how long the former president was kept waiting.
Mr. Maharaj criticized some news media coverage, reflecting the growing tension between news organizations’ appetite for details and updates about Mr. Mandela’s health and the government’s desire to control information about such a revered national figure.
The government’s priority, Mr. Maharaj said, was to “protect the privacy of the patient and the family” and to “uphold the dignity of the patient.”
On Sunday, Mr. Zuma appealed to South Africans and people across the world to pray for “Madiba, his family and the medical team that is attending to him during this difficult time.”
Mr. Mandela’s health is being closely watched in many parts of the world. He is seen as a pillar of moral probity for enduring the decades of imprisonment yet offering reconciliation with his white captors after his release.
On Monday, well-wishers streamed to the gates of the hospital in Pretoria where Mr. Mandela is being treated, bringing flowers, cards and posters. Many were schoolchildren on annual winter vacation.
Chris Wakube, 17, brought a card for Mr. Mandela, saying he had been urged to visit by his mother. “We are in the midst of history, and I want to be there, to be part of what will happen to our grandfather,” he said. “He has done everything for us.”
The part of Pretoria where the hospital is home to many migrants from other African countries, some of whom also visited the hospital. Among them was Jean-Crispin Maboshi, a clothes trader from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“This is more a moment of reflection than of sadness,” he said. “Other African leaders especially need to take lessons from Mandela. But although they say how sad they are, they don’t seem to be adopting his ways.”
News of Mr. Mandela’s deterioration came as President Obama prepared to leave on Wednesday for a short tour of Africa, including a visit to South Africa starting on Friday. Mr. Obama had planned to visit Mr. Mandela. American officials now say that such a meeting would depend on Mr. Mandela’s health and his family’s wishes.
Mr. Zuma said on Monday that the state of Mr. Mandela’s health would not affect the trip.
“I don’t think you stop a visit because someone is sick,” Mr. Zuma said.
Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London and Mukelwa Hlatshwayo from Pretoria, South Africa.