Pretoria: Nelson Mandela's condition remains "critical but stable", South African President Jacob Zuma said on Saturda hoping the anti-apartheid icon would leave hospital soon, as US President Barack Obama visits the country. "These are very excellent doctors who are dealing with him," Zuma said in a joint press conference with Obama. "We hope that very soon he will be out of hospital," he added. Zuma called Mandela the "founding president of our democracy who is much loved by our people and the world".
Obama, here on an official visit, plans to meet with Mandela's relatives privately, but does not intend to see the man he has called a "personal hero". Mandela, who turns 95 on July 18, has been admitted to a hospital here since June 8 with a recurring lung infection. Obama decided not to visit his hero in hospital to preserve the "peace and comfort" of the legendary leader. "The triumph of Nelson Mandela and this nation speaks to something very deep in the human spirit," Obama said after talks with Zuma. Zuma said Obama and Mandela were "bound by history" as the first black leaders of their respective nations.
"You both carry the dreams of millions of people in Africa," he said. "I know that he is your personal hero," Zuma told Obama as he reflected on Mandela's health. Obama had earlier said that Mandela's 27 years in prison and his long struggle against apartheid was a source of "personal inspiration" to him. Obama also said yesterday that he did not need a photo-op with Mandela, whom he met briefly in 2005. Obama's visit has been overshadowed by the critical illness of Mandela as he fights for his life in hospital, entering the fourth week of his stay.
Well-wishers are continuing to gather outside the hospital where Mandela was admitted 21 days ago. They have been singing and saying prayers outside the hospital and at the former Soweto home of Mandela, revered across the globe as a symbol of resistance against injustice. Mandela had a long history of lung problems, dating back to the time when he was a political prisoner on Robben Island during apartheid. While in jail he contracted tuberculosis.
Mandela is revered for leading the fight against white minority rule in the African country and then preaching reconciliation despite being imprisoned for 27 years. He served as the country's first black president from 1994 to 1999, leaving power after five years. Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He retired from public life in 2004 and has not been seen in public since the football World Cup finals in 2010.