Prayer vigil for Nelson Mandela after condition improves

Karen Allen said people had been singing and lighting candles outside the hospital in Pretoria

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South Africans have been holding an all-night prayer vigil for former President Nelson Mandela, outside his former home in Soweto.

The crowd have been singing and saying prayers for Mr Mandela's health, on what is now his 20th night in hospital.

South Africa's first black president - an icon of the anti-apartheid struggle - is suffering from a lung infection.

President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday that the 94-year-old's condition had improved, but still remained critical.

"He is much better today than he was when I saw him last night," Mr Zuma said after speaking to Mr Mandela's medical team.

Mr Zuma cancelled a visit to Mozambique to visit Mr Mandela in hospital.

Meanwhile Mr Mandela's daughter Makaziwe said he was "still there" and responding to touch.

Analysis

Nelson Mandela's eldest daughter Makiziwe's criticism has echoed the sentiments of many South Africans who have baulked at the "intrusive" nature of some of the media coverage around the former president's state of health.

One such report suggested that Mr Mandela had suffered cardiac arrest on 8 June when he was rushed to hospital, and more recently some unconfirmed media reports said the national icon was now on life support. Some have described such details as "too much information", others as "insensitive".

Meanwhile the media continues to camp outside the heart hospital in Pretoria where he is being treated, as well as outside his home in Johannesburg, waiting for any news.

This is particularly uncomfortable for traditional South Africans, who see all the media attention as not only distasteful but also going against African culture.

There is a huge respect for death here and it is never mentioned before the event.

Even in this dark hour, very few speak frankly about the 94-year-old's passing - instead many are still praying for his recovery.

But she accused some journalists of being like vultures, waiting for her father to die.

Emotional crowds gathered outside the hospital, adding messages of support for Mr Mandela, known by his clan name Madiba.

Children released 94 balloons - one for every year of the ex-president's life - into the air in his honour.

Correspondents say South Africans now seem resigned to the prospect of his death.

"We don't like seeing Mandela going through so much pain, he has had a tough time in his life and he's gone through a lot of struggle. I think this struggle should get over sooner," Khulile Mlondleni told Reuters news agency.

"We are all going to feel bad when he passes [away], but at the same time we will be celebrating his life. He has done so many great things for this country," said 25-year-old John Ndlovu, quoted by the agency.

As crowds prayed in Soweto on Thursday evening, South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) said it would hold vigils each day that the former leader remained in hospital.

US President Barack Obama, who is in Senegal, described Mr Mandela as "a hero for the world".

"His legacy will linger on through the ages," he said.

Speculation warning

After visiting her grandfather in hospital on Wednesday, Ndileka Mandela said it was an anxious time for the family.

"He's stable and we'd like to say that we thank everybody for giving their support and praying with us... we are anxious as you know that he is critical but he's in a stable condition right now," she said.

Nelson Mandela: Key dates

Nelson Mandela in June 2010
  • 1918 Born in the Eastern Cape
  • 1944 Joins African National Congress
  • 1956 Charged with high treason, but charges dropped
  • 1962 Arrested, convicted of sabotage, sentenced to five years in prison
  • 1964 Charged again, sentenced to life
  • 1990 Freed from prison
  • 1993 Wins Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1994 Elected first black president
  • 1999 Steps down as leader

"It's been hard, especially because of all of this - that we have to do everything in the public eye."

Later Mr Mandela's daughter Makaziwe said that while the situation was serious he was still responsive.

"He doesn't look good, I'm not going to lie," she said, after seeing him on Wednesday night.

"But as I say, if we speak to him, he responds and tries to open his eyes. He's still there. He might be waning off, but he's still there," she told public broadcaster SABC.

She was also highly critical of the behaviour of the international media.

"There is sort of a racist element with many of the foreign national media where they cross boundaries - it's like truly vultures waiting [for] when the lion has devoured the buffalo… we don't mind the interest but I just think that it has gone overboard," Ms Mandela said.

Mr Zuma's spokesman Mac Maharaj also criticised some media outlets for broadcasting unverified information, as rumours spread on social media sites.

Meanwhile media reports say the bodies of three of Mr Mandela's children are to be moved from his birthplace to his home in Qunu, where he himself has said he wants to be buried.

They include his son Makgatho, who died of an Aids-related illness in 2005.

Speaking on SABC Makaziwe, Nelson Mandela's daughter accused some journalists of racism, describing them as "vultures"

Mr Mandela is revered for leading the fight against white minority rule in South Africa and then preaching reconciliation despite being imprisoned for 27 years.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and was elected president the following year. He left office in 1999 after a single term.

Mr Mandela retired from public life in 2004 and has rarely been seen at official events since.

He has a long history of lung problems, and was diagnosed with tuberculosis in the 1980s while he was a prisoner on Robben Island, off Cape Town.

After his release, Mr Mandela said that the tuberculosis was probably caused by dampness in his prison cell.

ANC supporters hold a candlelit vigil outside the former home of former South African President Nelson Mandela in Soweto township on June 27, 2013 South Africans are holding a vigil outside Mr Mandela's former Soweto house
ANC supporters hold a candlelit vigil outside the former home of former South African President Nelson Mandela in Soweto township on June 27, 2013 They've been singing and saying prayers for the health of South Africa's first black president.
Children release balloons Earlier in the day children let off 94 white balloons, each one representing a year in Mr Mandela's life
A man holds a picture of Mandela outside the hospital. The iconic leader has been in hospital since 8 June
A woman weeps outside the clinic. Many are now resigned to the fact that Mr Mandela may not recover.

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